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Administration officials emphasize that when it comes to Internet and telephone surveillance, NSA bulk data collection is limited to the timing, duration, and end-points of electronic communications. This so-called metadata does not include the contents of those communications.
But critics emphasize the sweep and scope of those operations, which they say target foreigners by obtaining the communications records of unsuspecting Americans. “The slow trickle of revelations that began in June about NSA spying have exposed the most intrusive and secretive programs in American history,” Sensenbrenner said.
Sensenbrenner, chairman of a House panel on crime, terrorism and homeland security, has teamed up with Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. In addition to curbing bulk collection of Americans’ communications records, their bill would increase transparency and oversight over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves surveillance warrants against suspected foreign agents inside the country.
So far, they’ve enlisted the support of 18 senators and 115 House members, including Minnesota Democrats Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum.
McCollum said that while monitoring communications is an “essential” security tool, the NSA’s surveillance of law-abiding U.S. citizens is “an abuse of our privacy and basic civil liberties.”
Minnesota Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have yet to take a position on the bill, though Klobuchar said she favors allowing libraries to publicly disclose government requests for patrons’ data.
Franken, chairman of a Judiciary panel on privacy and technology, has introduced more limited legislation that would require greater transparency in government surveillance programs.
While lobbying giants from Microsoft to the NRA ramp up the pressure in Washington, Clark says individual librarians like her can only do so much. That includes helping students research voting records and contact members of Congress.
Follow Kevin Diaz on Twitter @StribDiaz.