Wyden and two Senate colleagues also unveiled legislation Thursday to overhaul the secret federal court that oversees the programs, which critics decry as largely a rubber stamp. The senators aim to make the court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, more adversarial by creating a special advocate who could argue for privacy during closed-door proceedings and appeal decisions. A companion bill would diversify the court's bench by ending the chief justice's sole authority to pick its judges.
"These bills do not compromise national security, but they put a necessary opposing view in the FISA court and assure ideological diversity of judges," said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Another of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the Obama administration was receptive to the ideas, although White House officials declined to comment.
Debate over the line between counterterrorism and invasion of privacy has been heating up since former government contract systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked classified documents exposing the NSA's monumental capability to sweep up data about phone and Internet use, including programs that store years of phone records on virtually every American. Snowden's revelations have prompted a national rethinking over government surveillance powers that have grown since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Russia decided on Thursday to grant temporary asylum to Snowden, who has been in a Moscow airport hotel for more than a month, despite America's insistence that the fugitive be sent home to face prosecution on espionage charges.
In Washington, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he stressed to Obama the role Congress must play in ensuring that U.S. spying isn't infringing on Congress' intent or on civil liberties. He said his committee would further probe the issue, including in a classified hearing he's hoping to hold in September.