PUBLIC outrage over Edward Snowden’s revelations of spying abuses by the National Security Agency has finally had a welcomed consequence. Congress — supine for years in its duty to check the agency’s power — is finally regrowing its spine.
The first indication came in May, when the U.S. House first passed important, but watered-down, reforms. The USA Freedom Act was intended to end the NSA’s bulk and warrantless collection of American’s phone records. But last-minute amendments gave the NSA too much wiggle room to conduct business as usual.
Last week, the spine stiffened. The House, by a 293-123 margin, moved to hit the NSA where it hurts — in its budget — by defunding what the Electronic Frontier Foundation called “two of the NSA’s most invasive surveillance practices,” including the practice of requiring American companies to install backdoor spy holes in communications hardware and software.
Among the Washington delegation, only U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, and Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, voted no.
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A yes vote on NSA reforms resets the balance between the NSA’s role between homeland protection and bedrock American civil liberties. In the post-9/11 decade of passive and deferring congressional oversight, that balance was tipped dangerously toward the former.
This reset now moves to the U.S. Senate. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a champion of NSA reform even before Snowden’s revelations, cites the agency’s “long track record of secretly interpreting surveillance laws in incredibly broad ways” as reason for the Senate to further stiffen its spine.
He has the backing of the American people. A recent Pew Research poll found broad cynicism about President Obama’s support for NSA reforms. By a 4-to-1 margin, Americans disbelieved the claim that reforms will weaken the fight on terrorism.
Congress, finally, is reclaiming its oversight spine.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).