A senior U.S. senator on Tuesday called for an end to the National Security Agency’s phone records collection program, arguing that it treads too heavily on Americans’ privacy rights without having proved its value as a counterterrorism tool.Leahy's condemnation of NSA's unconstitutional spying operations is positive and significant. Members of the Church Committee echoed Leahy's objections. Former Vice President Walter Mondale expressed concern that the FISA court is now taking cases that should be in regular federal court and said that bulk metadata collection was "upside down" from what the Church Committee intended. Gary Hart said when FISA was developed they "didn't know about NSA & other agencies hoovering up all communications." Loch Johnson spoke eloquently about Congressional culpability in the spy programs, expressing surprise about how much deference many members of Congress give to bulk collection. They all called for a renewed Church Committee-type investigation. I heartily agree. An aggressive investigation into NSA's domestic spying activities is sorely needed.
If the panelists had focused on the surveillance issues alone, there would be little to criticize. Unfortunately, their positive remarks were tempered by their either slamming or casting aside the person who made this important debate - and hopefully resulting legal reforms - possible: the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Yesterday's the panel discussion would not be possible without Snowden. His whistleblowing disclosures are the reason for a dozen surveillance reform bills kicking around Congress, and, with other NSA whistleblowers, the reason the public knows the U.S. government has been spying on hundreds of millions of innocent Americans. Yet, the panelists either erased or condemned the whistleblower that made this debate possible, a debate that even the President agrees the public should have.
Leahy said he "did not condone the way these and other highly-classifeid programs have been disclosed," but in the same breath condemned the program as useless as a needless invasion of Americans' privacy.
Mondale noted that the Church Committee specifically avoided creating an "Official Secrets Act," explained the reform would not happen without public disclosure, and spoke of the necessity of "one courageous reporter," conspicuously omitting that journalists would not have anything to report without whistleblowers like Snowden.
Johnson expounded on the problem that Congressional oversight is too responsive to newspaper reports, reports that would not exist without whistleblowers like Snowden.
As with all whistleblowers, the focus should be on the message and not the messenger. The focus should be on NSA's lawbreaking, but to take advantage of the message while disparaging the messenger is disingenuous at best. If government officials truly welcome public disclosure and debate about NSA's unlawful surveillance, then they should welcome the reason we are talking about NSA: the whistleblower Snowden.