Ruppersberger Proposes Changes to NSA Data Collection

The proposal aims to ensure the government only collects data about terrorist and foreign intelligence targets.

Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger (Credit: Patch File Photo)
Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger (Credit: Patch File Photo)

Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, joined House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., Tuesday to unveil a bipartisan bill that would end the government’s mass collection of metadata and instead allow the government to order communication companies to search their files for more specific information.

The FISA Transparency and Modernization Act is the committee’s latest attempt to quell Americans’ worries about the systematic dragnet collection of millions of Americans’ phone and other electronic data by federal agencies.

"The metadata was legal…but there was a perception issue,” said Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. "What we’re trying to do here is alleviate that concern that there could be abuse in the future."

The bill is making its debut the same week that the Obama administration is expected to release its own proposal for data collection reform.

The administration’s proposal will call for an end to collecting information in bulk, too, according to the New York Times. One key difference between the two is that the House committee’s bill would not require that the government get a warrant before issuing a directive to the phone companies.

Under Ruppersberger’s proposal, the data request would be reviewed afterward by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which could reject it and force the government to discard the records.

"Basically, what we’re doing is listening to the American people, but our committee has a responsibility to protect the American people from terrorist attacks,” Ruppersberger said.

Ruppersberger’s proposal would also implement procedures to ensure that only data concerning terrorist and foreign intelligence targets is sought. One such process would require the government to pass a "RAS," or reasonable and articulable suspicion, test to determine if a phone number is associated with terrorism.

The proposal has already drawn criticism from some members of Congress and privacy organizations.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., co-author of a competing bill and an outspoken critic of the National Security Agency, said in a statement Monday that the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act "limits, but does not end, bulk collection."

Sensenbrenner’s bill, the USA Freedom Act, has 163 co-sponsors in both chambers and prohibits the NSA from collecting Americans' identifying information through tracked communications with foreigners. Also under the USA Freedom Act, data would need to be relevant to an ongoing investigation in order to be accessed.

Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement Tuesday that the House Intelligence Committee’s bill is "on the wrong track" and that its sponsors are using "reform momentum as a pretext for expanding government power."

"The bill’s modest improvements to the phone records program are not worth demolishing the important judicial role in overseeing these programs,” she said.

Richardson applauded the Obama administration’s plan to end the bulk collection of phone records as a crucial first step, but said the most attractive proposal to the ACLU is the far-reaching USA Freedom Act.

But Ruppersberger said Tuesday that the USA Freedom Act would “make our country less safe.”

Concerns about the government’s collection of phone, e-mail, and Internet data came to light 10 months ago when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began leaking classified documents about the programs the agency was conducting.

Although some hail Snowden as a hero and whistleblower, Ruppersberger does not.

"Snowden took an oath and he turned his back on (his country)," Ruppersberger said.

Snowden is currently under temporary asylum in Russia.
patricia March 27, 2014 at 07:48 AM
Under Ruppersberger's proposal the data request would be reviewed "afterward", by the FISA court, which could reject it and "force" the government to discard the data? Really? Where are all of the liberal progressives on this one? How come the LPS tag team isn't jumping in. Oh! that's right, they don't comment on other liberal progressives.
You March 27, 2014 at 09:36 AM
Hasn't the ACLU already come forward saying that this is an extreme illegal practice on citizens rights to privacy? That is one of the most liberal orgs in this country. Of course D's are supporting this illegal action... because Obama is President and they could never condemn an illegal practice under his administration. This is the very problem with this country, D's never breaking rank and R's never breaking ranks. This is not the way the nation is supposed to work and its crushing this country.
Kenneth Packard March 27, 2014 at 02:27 PM
Dutch and Diane Feinstein abrogated their responsibility to the American people when they gave tacit approval to the NSA and CIA data collection programs. Only after the Snowden revelations (and Feinstein's discovery that the CIA was scrutinizing her staff) did either of them change positions on this issue. As far as I'm concerned, both of them are complete tools that should be replaced on their committee's by others that know that the Fourth Amendment is still a valid document.


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