A federal judge has ruled the NSA domestic surveillance program unconstitutional. Bills have been introduced in Congress to rein it in. Leaders of major tech firms have urged President Obama to overhaul it. But some in the government say the program has saved the country from a cyberterrorism attack.
Is there any way to change the surveillance program to satisfy both the public's concern for privacy and the government's counterterrorism needs?
Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who blew the whistle on the NSA, is seeking asylum in Brazil or some other country, and the head of a task force recommending changes in the program says he's open to the idea of a negotiated amnesty for him.
The Obama administration opposes any such amnesty, and wants Snowden tried in the United States. Meanwhile, the former analyst has temporary sanctuary in the Soviet Union.
The Daily Circuit takes a look at some of the issues swirling around the NSA and Snowden as a tumultuous year draws to a close.
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NSA reform advocates hopeful of change in 2014 despite failure so far
Two complementary major bills, one in the House and the other in the Senate, that would forbid the NSA from collecting bulk phone data on Americans without suspicion of a crime, represent the most viable vehicles for curbing at least some of the surveillance agency's controversial authorities. Yet they have yet to pass their committees and head to the chamber floors as the days tick down on the legislative calendar. (The Guardian)
Snap Out of It
If you have been lulled into a state of somnolence about former government contractor Edward Snowden's revelations that the government is collecting records of every phone call you've made, for years, it's time to snap out of it. That's the bracing effect of Judge Richard Leon's Monday ruling that the National Security Agency is probably violating the Constitution with its 7-year-old program for collecting "telephony metadata" — the euphonic phrase for whom you call and whom you receive calls from.
In June, when we learned about this NSA program in the first wave of news about the huge trove of documents that Snowden leaked, some responses were too dismissive, saying that what the NSA is doing isn't all that invasive, since this isn't about the contents of phone calls, and in any case, collecting and trawling through all that metadata is a crucial tool for thwarting imminent terrorist attacks. Judge Leon didn't accept the first claim and has eviscerated the second one. (Emily Bazelon, Slate)
Who broke the law, Snowden or the NSA?
But how can anyone believe that Snowden would not be deserving of amnesty? Clearly it is the government and its senior officials who committed the crime — people who took oaths to defend the Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic and who failed to take to heart the words they swore to uphold. Indeed, Snowden did not — nor does any government employee — swear allegiance to the president of the United States, or even to the secretary of Defense or the director of NSA. No, he swore to uphold and defend the Constitution. (J. Kirk Wiebe, in an op-ed for CNN)