Top House intelligence members propose ending bulk data collection

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON — The top members on the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday proposed legislation to end the NSA’s bulk collection of metadata, while still allowing intelligence officials to get information on foreign calls made to the United States, if they can show a reasonable need for collecting that data.

The bipartisan legislation announced by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and ranking member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger comes as President Barack Obama is expected to himself call for an end to the bulk data collection program, The New York Times reported.

Rogers and Ruppersberger’s legislation would ban the collection of bulk metadata under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Instead, phone companies would have the data, and intelligence officials seeking to obtain specific data would have to prove “reasonable, articulable, suspicion” — the RAS test — to get access to it.

Ruppersberger and Rogers said at a press conference that courts would have an input both before and after data collection. Before any data collection happened, there would have to be “a court authorization for the program itself, all its guidelines and its standards,” Rogers said.

After the data is collected, “the courts will evaluate every individual case with the RAS test,” Ruppersberger explained.

Rogers said it is essential for this court evaluation to come after the data collection and not before because “these things happen in real time, you have to react in each time.”

If the court determines in its review after the collection that there was not reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify the data being collected, Rogers said, “we’ll require a purge of all the information.”

Even as they proposed changes, Rogers and Ruppersberger were adamant that the program as it originally functioned was entirely within the letter of the law.

“We believe that it was both legal and constitutional and overseen at the appropriate level,” Rogers said, and that: “I passionately believe that this program saved American lives.” Ruppersberger added that having such a program earlier could have prevented 9/11.

But, Ruppersberger said, “there was a perception issue. The public, for whatever reason … was concerned.”

The proposed changes are meant to alleviate some of the concerns, while also maintaining a program that both said is essential to protecting Americans.

The two attributed those concerns to misinformation and misunderstanding, propagated in part by Edward Snowden, but also by members of Congress. Rogers accused fellow members of not taking the time to fully understand the program before attacking it.

“What I get so offended about in this process is that those members who say the Intelligence Committee has run amok, I believe that many members of this House did not do their basic constitutional function in learning the true operation of these programs,” Rogers said. “And that’s pretty strong talk, but I believe it.”

“I think the misinformation that’s being provided out there to whip up a frenzy of Americans who think every phone call is listened to and every email is read, which is not true and not happening, is dangerous to our overall national security,” he added later.

The White House is also expected to announce legislation to end the NSA’s collection of bulk data, The New York Times reported, and Ruppersberger said the White House proposal will be “very, very close” to their proposal.

The Intelligence Committee gave the White House legislative text two weeks ago, Rogers said, and they had a meeting on Monday. But, Rogers said, they learned of the White House proposal not from the White House, but in the newspaper on Monday.

One place where their might be disagreement with the White House, Ruppersberger said, is on the issue of whether the courts should have to approve each specific collection of data before it happens, or review it after, as the Intelligence Committee proposed.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is sponsoring the bill in addition to Rogers and Ruppersberger: Republican Reps. Jeff Miller, Mike Conaway, Peter King, Devon Nunes, Lynn Westmoreland and Mike Pompeo, and Democratic Reps. Terri Sewell, Mike Thompson and Jim Langevin. Ruppersberger and Rogers said there was no specific timeline for getting the bill through Congress.

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