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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Welch Says NSA Surveillance Programs Need To Be Reined In

Welch is the co-sponsor of legislation that would restrict the NSAs ability to monitor the emails and phone calls of millions of Americans.

His bill would require the NSA to have probable cause before it could initiate its surveillance activities.

If you give that unlimited power to government will it abuse it ? And our founding fathers said you know they will - Rep. Peter Welch

Welch says the NSA has been able to expand its power by claiming that its programs are needed to prevent future terrorist attacks.

“But that becomes a tool that justifies behavior that goes way past our Constitutional liberties and the question I think we all have to ask ourselves is do we believe in limited government ?” said Welch.  “I mean if you give that unlimited power to government will it abuse it ? And our founding fathers said you know they will.”

Welch says the time has come for an open and honest debate in this country about the effectiveness and the constitutionality of the NSA surveillance programs.

“My view is that it’s not for Congress to be briefed it’s for the American people to be briefed because it’s their emails, it’s their telephone and it’s their tax dollars that’s doing it,” said Welch.  “It’s time for us to step back and take a look at is it effective ? And is it Constitutional ?

The NSA surveillance requests are reviewed in secret by special federal judges known as the FISA Court.  President Obama on Friday proposed adding an independent advocate to this process to challenge the NSA’s proposed actions.  Welch thinks having this advocate is a very good idea.

“The whole hearing is secret, Their decisions are secret,” said Welch.  “So there’s no body of law that even scholars or citizens can look at and assess to see whether it makes sense and what the basis is of decisions being made. So by the way I think in general the more we know the better.”

The U.S. House rejected Welch’s bill by a close vote two weeks ago. Welch says he’s not giving up on this legislation and he’s hopeful that it will be debated once again in the near future.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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