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September 24, 2013

Senate intelligence committee holds NSA spy hearing

The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold its first public hearing Thursday related to NSA’s once secret collection of telephone and internet data since the existence of the program was disclosed last June.

The committee previously discussed the matter behind closed doors after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about the agency's programs to the media. This time, committee members will talk publicly about proposed reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that are meant to quell criticism about the data collection.

Since Snowden’s leaks to the media, the Obama administration has declassified documents that detailed NSA violations, including the collection of tens of thousands of emails of Americans in a program designed to target foreigners. 

In response, the secret court that oversees NSA surveillance programs, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, ruled the program unconstitutional, forcing the NSA to change its practices.

Administration officials have downplayed the violations although some members of Congress have said they demonstrate NSA has needs more aggressive oversight.  

So far, Senate Judiciary Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein has defended the NSA, saying her “committee has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes.”

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Feinstein also pointed to the NSA’s disclosure that 54 terrorist “events” had been prevented as a result of the program. The agency, however, has provided scant details on the instances.

Despite her support for the program, she said her committee would consider reforms that would require NSA to publish a wide range of information about its activities.

Meanwhile, intelligence committee members Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have introduced legislation that would require the FISA court to hear evidence from a public interest legal advocate “whose client would be the Constitution.”

-- Reported by Marisa Taylor


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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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