Months after revelations about the National Security Agency’s once-secret surveillance programs, U.S. Sen. Al Franken said Americans still remain in the dark about the scope and sweep of the monitoring.
Americans still don’t know how many people had their information collected under the programs and how much of that information has been viewed by government officials, and not merely collected for databases.
Franken is chairing a Senate hearing on government surveillance today, bringing privacy experts, a representative from Google and officials from the Office of National Intelligence and the Justice Department to Capitol Hill.
“The administration has taken good steps in good faith to address this problem. But I’m afraid that these steps are too little, and they’re not permanent,” Franken said in his opening statement.
“And so, Americans still have no way of knowing whether the government is striking the right balance between privacy and security – or whether their privacy is being violated. There needs to be more transparency.”
The hearing is part of Franken’s push for more transparency in how the government collects data on its citizens. He’s laying out an argument for his bipartisan bill that would boost reporting of surveillance programs.
Former Saturday Night Live star Al Franken is taking a brief time-out Wednesday from his all-wonk-no-play political persona in the U.S. Senate.
The Minnesota Democrat will appear at the “progressive all-star launch” of a new comedy and politics show hosted by former Franken producer Ben Wikler, an activist whose previous political credits include MoveOn.org, Avaaz.org, and Change.org, which championed causes such as Trayvon Martin case.
The launch party for “The Good Fight,” a new podcast and radio show, takes place at Washington’s 201 Bar on Capitol Hill Wednesday night. Wikler, a former writer, producer and researcher for Franken, promises a blend of comedy, activism and interviews.
“’The Good Fight’ is a show about people changing the world, so it’s only natural that we’d start with an audacious attack on the idea that nothing fun happens on Wednesday nights,” Wikler said.
Three years early, Gov. Mark Dayton is taking a stand for his 2016 presidential pick.
The DFL governor joined Ready for Hillary, the political action committee supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton's potential run for president, the group said Thursday and Dayton's staff confirmed.
"Everyday, Minnesotans from all over our state and from all walks of life tell me that they want to see Hillary Clinton run for president in 2016," Dayton said in a release. "Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person to be the next president of the United States."
The governor has long been a Clinton fan. Back when Clinton was battling in Iowa in 2008, Dayton has said one of the Clintons would go to speak to any large group of Iowans but if two or three were gathered Dayton would go to sing Hillary Clinton's praises.
There is a lot of time and challenge between now and the 2016 election. Dayton, in his first term, first has his own race to run and win next year. Recent polling found that fewer than half of Minnesotans approve of the job he is doing.
Despite that, Dayton said: "I am proud to join the national movement that Ready for Hillary is leading to show her that, if she runs, she will have a huge grassroots army behind her."
Dayton served in the U.S. Senate with Clinton and he also helped fundraise for her presidential campaign in Minnesota..
The governor has a history of picking Hillary Clinton for early backing. As early as 2005, he introduced her as "the next great president of the United States of America." Three years later she lost her presidential bid to now president Barack Obama, who handily won Minnesota's presidential caucus that year.
U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that bans discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The measure passed the Senate 64-32 on Thursday.
“Making ENDA law will be the next significant step in the fight for equality for LGBT Americans,” Franken said in a floor speech hours before the vote.
“After decades of struggle, we have achieved a number of huge victories in rapid succession – ending ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’; overturning the federal ban on same-sex marriage recognition; the achievement of marriage equality in more and more states, including my home state of Minnesota.”
The Senate vote is a victory for gay rights advocates, but the excitement has been tempered by political reality: the bill is unlikely to come up for a vote in the Republican-led House. Speaker John Boehner, a staunch opponent of the bill, has argued that the legislation would spark a spate of frivolous lawsuits for businesses.
“The Minnesota experience shows that those fears are unfounded,” Franken said. “There has not been a flood of lawsuits, because the rights of LGBT Minnesotans are widely respected … Minnesota is basically the same as it was before this law passed, expect that it is better because LGBT Minnesotans are free from discrimination at work.”
Current federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race and national origin. But it doesn’t stop an employer from firing or refusing to hire workers because they are gay, bisexual or transgender.
The bill passed Thursday would prevent employers with 15 or more workers from using a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for making employment decisions, including job promotions and pay. The military and religious institutions are exempt.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken was among the Senate Democrats who met with President Obama and Vice President Biden on Wednesday to talk about the federal health care overhaul and “existing challenges with implementation of the Affordable Care Act," according to the White House.
Franken said he expressed his displeasure at the meeting.
“I, along with the Senators at the meeting, expressed frustration with the performance of the federal website," he said in a statement released from his office.
"I also made it clear that, while MNsure.org appears to be running more smoothly than the federal website, I want to make certain that the pieces of the federal system that interface with MNsure are working as well as possible," said Franken, who was among 16 senators who met with Obama.
Although Franken has been a supporter of ObamaCare, according to one report, he was “visibly agitated” last month when meeting with Obama’s chief of staff to discuss the problem with the roll out.
On Wednesday he said: "I will continue to hold the Administration accountable as it fixes the federal site."
According to the White House, during the meeting:
"The President emphasized that he shared the Senators’ commitment to ensuring that Americans who want to enroll in health insurance through the Marketplaces are able to do so in time for insurance coverage to start as early as January 1st, and throughout the open enrollment period which goes through March 31. He also discussed ongoing efforts to ramp up communication and education outreach to consumers who have received or might receive letters about how their individual market plans might be affected. In addition, the President also reiterated that the Administration is working to protect the privacy and security of consumers and to ensure that online Marketplace applications are protected by stringent security standards, with ongoing testing to help safeguard personal information."
Star Tribune reporter Kevin Diaz contributed to this report.