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Leahy Wants More Oversight Of Government Surveillance

Sen. Patrick Leahy says Congress needs to closely scrutinize government surveillance programs.

Leahy has introduced legislation to allow for more congressional oversight.

It’s been a productive few months for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, capped by the Senate’s vote this week on comprehensive immigration reform.

But after the Fourth of July recess, Leahy wants to focus on Internet privacy and government surveillance. One bill would revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, which established a secret court to review government wiretapping requests. A bill Leahy introduced last week would require that some of the spying provisions expire – or sunset – two years early. Leahy said that will allow Congress an opportunity to make changes. He said the bill mirrors legislation that’s cleared the Judiciary Committee in the past but failed to win enough votes in the full Senate.

“Now I think we have a good chance. And so I’m going to bring it back and try it again, shorten the sunset provisions, have more openness. I’d like to have broader reporting at least of what goes before the FISA court,” he said.

Congressional interest in widespread government surveillance was sparked by documents leaked by private contractor Edward Snowden, who worked with the National Security Agency. The disclosures indicate the government tracks billions of phone and Internet records.

According to information released by Leahy’s office, the National Security Agency surveillance is being conducted under sections of FISA and the USA Patriot Act.

Leahy said he didn’t learn anything from media reports about the Snowden leaks that he hadn’t known already from classified briefings.

“I know all these programs, and I know the classified parts of them. I also know there’s a lot what’s classified that could easily be made public without damaging our security,” he said.

But Leahy said he couldn’t think of any benefit from the leaks unless the disclosures add to the public debate and help build support for his bill.

“If it helps me get the legislation through that I want, that is a benefit,” he said.

Leahy’s bill also sets higher standards for surveillance being conducted under the Patriot Act. For example, the government would have to show the relevance of a record to an authorized investigation, and the link to foreign agent, power or group.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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