Last-Minute NSA Deal Shortchanges Americans (UPDATED)
June 7, 2006
UPDATE (June 8, 2006) The plot thickens. According to a follow-up story published today, Chairman Specter was not party to the deal to prevent the Judiciary Committee from questioning phone companies about their involvement in NSA spying. Indeed Specter sent a strongly worded letter criticizing Vice President Cheney for undercutting a possible public inquiry into the phone companies' involvement. Original post follows. --- A last-minute deal between the Senate Judiciary Committee and the White House Tuesday may have robbed Americans of their last real chance to learn if and why their phone companies handed their records over to the National Security Agency. USA Today reported Wednesday that Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) had reached a deal with Vice President Dick Cheney, under which Specter would drop his efforts to publicly question phone company officials about their involvement in the NSA surveillance programs. In return, the White House agreed to consider Specter's NSA bill, which would retroactively validate the surveillance programs, would not require judicial review of the President's warrantless surveillance program, and would not promote congressional oversight. This is a troubling development on many levels. Prior to this deal, Specter had taken a tough stance on NSA spying. For us in the privacy community, a serious inquiry by Specter's Judiciary Committee seemed our best hope for learning more about the phone companies' involvement in the NSA program. Now that opportunity is slipping away and Specter's NSA bill, which is deeply problematic in its own right has garnered White House interest. Since the disclosure last December of the NSA program, CDT has maintained that Congress must learn all of the facts about the surveillance program before it even attempts to pass legislation to address this issue. This deal undermines that effort, and further weakens the ability of Congress and the courts to exercise appropriate checks on the Executive Branch's investigative powers.