Obama told a delegation of lawmakers "that he and his team would continue to work closely with the Congress on these matters in the weeks and months ahead," said a White House statement after an Oval Office meeting. [...]A written statement signed by the bipartisan leadership teams on the intelligence committees in the House and Senate said that "the group agreed that the NSA is not running a 'domestic' surveillance program, but improvements to policies can be made," an assessment of the meeting that not all attendees—Udall, Sensenbrenner, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)—might endorse. Clearly, these members are convinced that what the NSA has been doing with its dragnet spying program is domestic surveillance. What all did agree on was that programs had to be made more transparent to the public.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.—principal author of the Patriot Act, which gave rise to the surveillance programs—said "the balance between security and liberty has been tainted" by the NSA activities. He pledged to introduce a bill to "ensure the dragnet collection of data by the NSA is reined in, safeguards are established to significantly increase the transparency of the FISA Court and protections are put in place for businesses who work with the government."
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who has said NSA policies invade personal privacy in the name of national security, said he told Obama "that the dragnet phone record program as it exists today does not achieve this balance, and that it must be significantly reined in."
Udall called Thursday's discussion a positive one, and "I will be working with my colleagues from both parties to find solutions that will keep Americans safe while still protecting our constitutional liberties."
"I felt that the president was open to ideas—and we're going to make sure he has some," Wyden said after the meeting. One of those ideas is the legislation he and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Tom Udall (D-NM) have introduced to require the FISA court to hear from a public interest legal advocate "whose client would be the Constitution" with every request for surveillance from the government. Currently, the FISA Court only hears the government's case. Another bill from these lawmakers would change the selection process for FISA Court judges. Currently, they're named by Chief Justice John Roberts, who makes the decisions unilaterally and based on criteria that are solely his own. This bill would change the selection process of judges to provide for geographical and ideological diversity.
There will be pushback on every reform effort from those members of the intelligence committees who refuse to acknowledge that the NSA has overstepped its bounds, or that the FISA Court is a rubber stamp for the intelligence agencies. It's going to take continued pressure from the public and from these lawmakers to keep a reform effort on track.