TIME

I Am a Muslim-American Leader, and the NSA Spied on Me

Nihad Awad, a target of NSA surveillance
Nihad Awad, a target of NSA surveillance Courtesy Council on American-Islamic Relations

But I am not the threat—our country's surveillance program is

As a student at the University of Minnesota decades ago, the more I learned about America’s history, the more I was inspired by our Founding Fathers. They were initially voices of dissent, who stood up and spoke on issues they thought would advance this country, with the understanding that it would not endear them to the powers of the day. This was the foundation for the Bill of Rights and the ideals that every American remains proud to enjoy to this day.

I am saddened, but not surprised, by recent revelations that I am on the list of Muslim-American leaders who have been targets for NSA surveillance. My First Amendment rights have been compromised simply because, over the years, I have expressed my views on issues relevant to public discourse. The fact that I have been individually targeted puts me on a list with very good company.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was spied on, along with Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald and boxer Muhammad Ali. Earlier this year, it came to light that the CIA had spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee, a Congressional body charged with oversight of the CIA.

Senator Frank Church, who led investigations in the 1970s uncovering FBI, CIA and NSA surveillance and illegal activity targeting minority activists, was spied on. In 1975 Church warned, “If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny.”

While I am not a figure of historical proportions like the ones I just mentioned, I am proud to be included on a long and growing list of patriots who have been spied on and subjected to an array of reputation smearing tactics by elements of our own government.

In 1994, I co-founded the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Today, CAIR is the United States’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. For many years, I enjoyed good relations with many government agencies, including the White House. As executive director, I have adopted many positions that dissent from government policy. But, if disagreement with government policy is viewed as subversive, no wonder the government has decided to vacuum up the communications of all Americans. We are an opinionated nation.

Like millions of other Americans, I have opposed U.S. foreign policy when I thought it was misguided. It is also true that I defended American policy overseas to unreceptive audiences when I thought my country was right. I spoke out against government use of secret evidence in U.S. courts in the late 1990s. I opposed the Iraq war. I have spoken in favor of Palestinian rights while consistently rejecting terrorism. I have advocated for, and ensured that CAIR filed lawsuits aimed at preserving, the Bill of Rights. In 2006, I went to Iraq to appeal for the release of a kidnapped American journalist. More recently, I joined Christian leaders on a trip to Iran to seek the release of American hikers who had been detained in that nation. Our delegation was informed by the Iranian authorities that our stay in Iran was vital in the ultimate decision to release the hikers. I worked for the release of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson and former US Marine Amir Hekmati, both currently held by the Iranian government. I have also opposed policies that undermine our Constitution: the No-Fly List, racial and religious profiling, and entrapment to name a few.

But CAIR and I have done all of this while continuing to condemn terrorism whenever it happens, wherever it happens, and by whoever commits it in over 107 public press statements in the past twenty years. CAIR’s “Know Your Rights” guide emphasizes, “If you know of any criminal activity taking place in your community, it is both your religious and civic duty to immediately report such activity to local and federal law enforcement agencies.”

Senator Church’s 1975 warning about the technology capacity of the intelligence community and its possible consequences could easily have been made last week. It stands is a reminder to all Americans that our liberty is a gift that requires our vigilance to preserve.

America is about checks and balances, about voices that are unafraid to speak out. For too long, there has been no substantive check on government surveillance. This must change, as it is intolerable in a democratic society. My hope is that the policies and practices that result in the surveillance of law-abiding Americans engaging in public debate will be changed so that other Americans will not be treated as objects of suspicion.

Nihad Awad is the Executive Director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest non-profit Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. A few days after September 11, 2001, Mr. Awad was one of the few American Muslim leaders invited by the White House to join President Bush in a press conference at the Islamic Center of Washington, the oldest mosque in Washington DC.

TIME technology

NSA Spying Hurts Cybersecurity for All of Us Say Privacy Advocates

FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone Calls
This undated photo provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) shows its headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. NSA/Getty Images

The surveillance debate has focused on the legality of spying on Americans but some say the biggest danger is in the methods the NSA uses

Privacy advocates Monday slammed the National Security Agency for conducting surveillance in a way they say undermines cybersecurity for everyone and harms U.S. tech companies.

“We have examples of the NSA going in and deliberately weakening security of things that we use so they can eavesdrop on particular targets,” said Bruce Schneier, a prominent cryptography writer and technologist. Schneier referenced a Reuters report that the NSA paid the computer security firm RSA $10 million to use a deliberately flawed encryption standard to facilitate easier eavesdropping, a charge RSA has denied. “This very act of undermining not only undermines our security. It undermines our fundamental trust in the things we use to achieve security. It’s very toxic,” Schneier said.

In the year since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s first leaks, attention has focused on the Agency’s surveillance itself, fueling debates over whether it is legal and ethical to spy on American citizens or to eavesdrop on the leaders of allied countries. NSA policies that intentionally undermine cybersecurity too often get left out of the debate, said panelists Monday at a New American Foundation event titled “National Insecurity Agency: How the NSA’s Surveillance Programs Undermine Internet Security.”

“If the Chinese government had proposed to put in a backdoor into our computers and then paid a company $10 million to make that the standard we would be furious,” said Joe Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “That’s exactly what the NSA has become: the best hacker in the entire world.”

In a statement to TIME, the NSA denied it had made the Internet less secure.

“While we cannot comment on specific, alleged intelligence-gathering activities, NSA’s interest in any given technology is driven by the use of that technology by foreign intelligence targets. The United States pursues its intelligence mission with care to ensure that innocent users of those same technologies are not affected,” spokesperson Vanee’ Vines said. “Our participation in standards development has strengthened the core encryption technology that underpins the Internet. NSA cannot crack much of the encryption that guards global commerce – and we don’t want to.”

The tension arises due to the two competing missions of the National Security Agency: electronic surveillance and protecting U.S. systems from cyberattacks.

Nearly all of our online communications are encrypted in some way against cyberattack, to protect our bank accounts from thieves and our intimate lives from nosy neighbors. This poses a challenge for the NSA as the agency, since September 11, 2001, has focused less on agents of foreign governments and more on ferreting out terrorist threats. Inevitably the data of innocent people gets caught its dragnet. A Washington Post report Sunday estimated that 90 percent of those caught in the agency’s data surveillance net—including intimate communications like family photographs and emails between lovers—are everyday Internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, many of them American citizens.

The agency has sought to install “backdoors,” hardware and software systems with deliberately weakened security, into some of the most commonly used tech products, as it did in the program codenamed PRISM. American tech companies say this hurts their business in the international marketplace, where users aren’t keen to use software that comes bugged by an American intelligence agency. Major tech firms, including Google, supported an amendment to the defense budget in May to prohibit the NSA from using funds for this kind of backdoor surveillance.

“Maybe a year ago this sort of language might have seemed unnecessary,” Google Privacy Policy Counsel David Lieber said, “but now its actually really important to restore trust that these sorts of things are not being requested and/or required of companies.”

Critics, like panelist Amie Stepanovich, senior policy counsel for the web freedom group Access, say NSA has also worked to crack and undermine encryption standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (the body that establishes the security standards that help protect our email accounts, banking websites, etc.), and hoarded indexes of computer bugs the agency uses to hack into machines rather than reveal the vulnerabilities so they can be fixed.

In the wake of apparently unfounded accusations that the NSA knew about the Heartbleed bug and didn’t help fix it, the administration announced this spring it has “re-invigorated” existing policy on how it decides whether or not to disclose or exploit security vulnerabilities it finds. “Building up a huge stockpile of undisclosed vulnerabilities while leaving the Internet vulnerable and the American people unprotected would not be in our national security interest. But that is not the same as arguing that we should completely forgo this tool as a way to conduct intelligence collection,” White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel wrote in April.

At its core the question comes down to a cost benefit analysis. “The fundamental issue,” Schneier said, “is should we compromise the security of everybody in order to access the data of the few.”

TIME intelligence

FBI Doesn’t Know How Many Americans It Spies On

John Brennan CIA Nomination Hearing
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., listens to U.S. Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism testify at his nomination hearing to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 7, 2013. Chris Maddaloni—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Intel agencies dished on how many Americans get nabbed in the surveillance dragnet

New details emerged Monday on how many Americans are spied on by the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, in a letter that also revealed how few records on domestic surveillance are held by the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

A letter to surveillance-reform hawk Sen. Ron Wyden (D—Ore.) from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence made public Monday revealed that the NSA approved searches of the content of communications of 198 “U.S. person identifiers”—a number associated with the phone, computer, etc. of an American citizen or legal immigrant — and 9,500 searches of meta-data for U.S. person identifiers. The Central Intelligence Agency conducted “fewer than 1900″ queries associated with U.S. person identifiers, according to the letter.

But the FBI could present no hard numbers on how many American citizens it spies on, according to the letter. “The FBI does not track how many queries it conducts using U.S. person identifiers,” the letter says. In fulfilling its mandate as a domestic law enforcement agency, the letter says, “the FBI does not distinguish between U.S. and non-U.S. persons for purposes of querying Section 702 collection.”

Wyden slammed what he termed a “huge gap in oversight” in surveillance of American citizens. “When the FBI says it conducts a substantial number of searches and it has no idea of what the number is, it shows how flawed this system is and the consequences of inadequate oversight,” Wyden said in a statement.

The letter from ODNI comes after a June 5 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the USA FREEDOM Act, a bill to reform domestic surveillance revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and others, in which Wyden pressed National Security Agency Deputy Director Rick Ledgett to say how many “warrantless searches for Americans’ communications have been conducted” under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Section 702 of FISA regulates the monitoring of foreign communications. Though the NSA is officially prohibited from targeting the communications of innocent Americans, due to the nature of global communication in the 21st century and the scale of the mass collection, American citizens’ communications can be swept up in the surveillance dragnet. Other intelligence and law enforcement agencies can query data collected by the NSA for information about their investigations.

As a vocal proponent of reform legislation to curtail the NSA’s surveillance of Americans, Wyden was displeased with the ODNI’s response to his request. “The findings transmitted to me raise questions about whether the FBI is exercising any internal controls over the use of backdoor searches including who and how many government employees can access the personal data of individual Americans,” Wyden’s statement said. “I intend to follow this up until it is fixed.”

TIME Congress

House Approves Amendment That Would Curb Spying on Americans

Proposed legislation would bar the NSA from secretly browsing search histories, emails and chat histories without warrants

The House of Representatives called for the imposition of new safeguards that would curtail the U.S. government’s wide-reaching ability to spy on American citizens with a striking bipartisan majority during a vote late on Thursday night.

The proposed curbs on the government’s domestic spying apparatus were included in an amendment attached to the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. The House approved the amendment by 293 votes to 123.

The legislation, if passed, will put an end to searches of “government databases for information pertaining to U.S. citizens, without a warrant” and prohibit the NSA from using budget it receives under the act to access “commercial tech products”— presumably computers, phones, phone networks and Internet-based services — through “back doors.”

House Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin, California legislator Zoe Lofgren and Kentucky’s Thomas Massie sponsored the amendment.

“By adopting this amendment, Congress can take a sure step toward shutting the back door on mass surveillance,” said the legislators in a joint statement. “Congress has an ongoing obligation to conduct oversight of the intelligence community and its surveillance authorities.”

However, not everyone in the House was supportive. House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte asserted that curbs on surveillance would play in the hands of terrorists.

“This amendment would create a blind spot for the intelligence community tracking terrorists with direct connections to the U.S. homeland,” Goodlatte told Roll Call. “Such an impediment would put American lives at risk of another terrorist attack.”

TIME Domestic Surveillance

Snowden Leaks Have Hurt American Companies, Tech Executive Says

“Every time a new Snowden revelation trickles out, it’s another chip away at U.S. business,” said Cheri McGuire, vice president of Symantec Corp

The revelations of mass surveillance activities by the National Security Agency has made it harder for American companies to conduct business overseas, a tech executive said Monday.

Cheri F. McGuire, a Symantec Corporation vice president, made the comments during a panel discussion marking one year since disclosures from former NSA contractor turned leaker Edward Snowden first rocked the global debate about surveillance and personal privacy. The fight to regain secrecy and privacy since then has plagued many American software companies, including Symantec, McGuire said.

“Every time a new Snowden revelation trickles out, it’s another chip away at U.S. business,” McGuire said during the panel hosted by the Atlantic Council and held at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security in Washington, D.C.

Almost every day, McGuire said, the company faces questions about backdoors within its products that might be available to intelligence agencies, along with requests for specific contractual guarantees of privacy. Companies now face a new environment, McGuire said, one that is filled with “sticky contractual and corporate citizenship issues that were not there before.”

But people in both the U.S. and elsewhere are holding American companies to a higher standard than those in the rest of the world, McGuire said, noting the lack of intelligence oversight around the world. McGuire said the leaks have actually harmed cybersecurity by making companies less willing to share information with other companies and technological innovators.

“We need to get through—I hate to say it—this hyperbole we hear today of privacy outweighing everything else,” McGuire said. “A balance needs to be struck because the situation would be much worse if there was no security equation.”

TIME intelligence

Snowden: Putin Must Be Held Accountable for Surveillance, Too

Edward Snowden, displayed on television screens, asks a question to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session, in Moscow, Thursday, April 17, 2014.
Edward Snowden, displayed on television screens, asks a question to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session, in Moscow, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Pavel Golovkin—AP

NSA leaker Edward Snowden explains in an op-ed why he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin about mass surveillance during a live televised Q&A yesterday, writing he did it to get a response "on the record, not to whitewash him”

Edward Snowden says he asked Vladimir Putin on live TV if Moscow conducts NSA-style surveillance on Russian citizens in order to get Putin’s answer on the record—not, as his critics charged, to be a prop for Kremlin propaganda.

“I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticize the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive,” Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked details of its mass domestic surveillance programs, wrote in an op-ed published in the Guardian on Friday.

Snowden was criticized after he asked Putin during an annual Q&A session on Thursday if Russia spies on its own citizens in a way similar to what the U.S. National Security Agency does. In that exchange, Putin denied Moscow conducts mass domestic surveillance, saying, “We do not allow ourselves to do this, and we will never allow this. We do not have the money or the means to do that.” Snowden was lambasted in some corners for apparently setting Putin up for a denial with a pre-packaged softball question.

But Snowden, who is living under temporary asylum in Russia says he asked the question knowing Putin would lie in his response in order to replicate the famous exchange between U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in which Clapper falsely claimed the U.S. does not conduct mass surveillance on Americans.

“I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program,” Snowden wrote.

TIME Domestic Surveillance

Intel Chief Admits Continued Snooping on Americans

US National Intelligence director Clapper appears before House Intelligence Committee in Washington
Director of U.S. National Intelligence James Clapper appears before the House Intelligence Committee on "Worldwide Threats" in Washington February 4, 2014. Gary Cameron - Reuters

National Intelligence Director James Clapper admits that intelligence agencies are still searching through Americans' emails and phone records without warrants, but tells a top lawmaker that such practices are allowed under federal law

Authorities continue to comb through Americans’ phone and email records without warrants, the nation’s top intelligence official acknowledged recently.

In a letter from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, written on March 28 but disclosed Tuesday, Clapper said authorities have the legal right to conduct such monitoring under federal law.

“As you know, when Congress reauthorized Section 702, the proposal to restrict such queries was specifically raised and ultimately not adopted,” Clapper wrote, referring to a provision in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows intelligence officials to monitor Americans in some cases if it’s in pursuit of foreign targets.

Wyden, who has been a fierce critic of the government’s domestic surveillance tactics and has been increasingly vocal in the wake of leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, panned Clapper’s reliance on what he called “loopholes” in the law.

“Today’s admission by the Director of National Intelligence is further proof that meaningful surveillance reform must include closing the back-door searches loophole and requiring the intelligence community to show probable cause before deliberately searching through data collected under section 702 to find the communications of individual Americans,” Wyden and fellow Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said in a joint statement Tuesday.

Amendments to the FISA law enacted in 2008 effectively legalized the warrantless surveillance program the Bush administration installed following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

TIME Domestic Surveillance

Obama Says Government Shouldn’t Collect Americans’ Phone Records

President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels on March 26, 2014.
President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels on March 26, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

President Obama has outlined a slimmer version of the controversial program that collects data from millions of Americans' phone calls. If passed, phone companies would hold the data instead and the NSA could only access it with court approval

President Barack Obama outlined a scaled-down version of the controversial NSA program that collects data on millions of Americans’ phone calls Thursday, almost one year after disclosure of the surveillance by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden sparked widespread outrage and calls for reform.

The proposal, which Obama called on Congress to enact swiftly, would effectively end the so-called Section 215 program, under which the National Security Agency maintains a database of telephone calling records. Instead, phone companies would hold the records and law enforcement agencies would be required to seek approval from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to search specific numbers.

“Having carefully considered the available options, I have decided that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk,” Obama said in a statement Thursday morning. “Instead, the data should remain at the telephone companies for the length of time it currently does today. The government would obtain the data pursuant to individual orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approving the use of specific numbers for such queries, if a judge agrees based on national security concerns. Legislation will be needed to permit the government to obtain this information with the speed and in the manner that will be required to make this approach workable.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are slowly moving forward with legislation to bring about the reforms. Obama has directed the Department of Justice to seek reauthorization for the existing program for another 90 days, allowing Congress time to establish the new program.

Briefing reporters, senior administration officials repeatedly declined to specify the criteria for an “emergency situation” that would allow the federal government to act without approval from the FISC.

The White House released a fact sheet outlining the new program:

· the government will not collect these telephone records in bulk; rather, the records would remain at the telephone companies for the length of time they currently do today;

· absent an emergency situation, the government would obtain the records only pursuant to individual orders from the FISC approving the use of specific numbers for such queries, if a judge agrees based on national security concerns;

· the records provided to the government in response to queries would only be within two hops of the selection term being used, and the government¹s handling of any records it acquires will be governed by minimization procedures approved by the FISC;

· the court-approved numbers could be used to query the data over a limited period of time without returning to the FISC for approval, and the production of records would be ongoing and prospective; and

· the companies would be compelled by court order to provide technical assistance to ensure that the records can be queried and that results are transmitted to the government in a usable format and in a timely manner.

 

TIME Domestic Surveillance

Evidence Missing From Charges Snowden Works for Putin

Senator John McCain speaks at a news conference in Kiev
Senator John McCain speaks at a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, March 15, 2014. Nikitin Maxim—ITAR-TASS/Corbis

The Arizona Senator joins a slew of lawmakers who have accused the man who leaked secret documents on the NSA's spying program of treason, but McCain's charges lack evidence to support them

Congressional accusations of treason just keep coming for leaker Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor now living under asylum in Russia.

Senator John McCain said Wednesday he believes Edward Snowden is collaborating with the Kremlin to hurt the United States. “Our real problem is Mr. Snowden is working for Russia, and he will be releasing information at appropriate times where it has the most significant impact damaging to the United States,” McCain told The Washington Examiner at the Capitol on Wednesday. “I know that Mr. Putin is hospitable, but he usually wants somebody to pay the rent.” McCain said he believed Snowden was working with Russia, “because of the timing of his releases of this information. If you look at the timing it’s when certain issues have been before us.”

Senator McCain’s office has not responded to a request from TIME for evidence to support the claim.

The charge echoes statements made by House intelligence committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. Rogers said he knows that Snowden is “under the influence of Russian intelligence officials today” and repeated the accusation he’s made before that Snowden perpetrated his leak of NSA documents with Kremlin assistance.

“I see all the intelligence and all the evidence from everything from his activities leading up to this event to very suspicious activity during the event,” Rogers said. “And so when you talk to the folks who are doing the investigation, they cannot rule it out.”

Asked for evidence to back up his assertion, Rogers’ office sent the following statement to TIME: “Chairman Rogers receives regular classified briefings on the status of the criminal investigation into what the former NSA contractor stole and the intelligence assessments about the impact of that theft to America’s national security.”

Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-California) has said she looked into the contention that Snowden leaked documents with help from Russia and found no evidence to support it. Snowden has denied he had help from anyone in leaking secret government documents and called the accusation “absurd.”

Senator McCain’s charge that Snowden is releasing classified American documents on a schedule designed to hurt American interests contradicts statements made in the past by both Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, one of the primary journalists responsible for publishing the documents Snowden leaked. Both have said repeatedly that Snowden turned over all copies of the documents to journalists months ago, in Hong Kong, before traveling to Moscow to seek asylum.

“Edward Snowden has not leaked a single document to any journalist since he left Hong Kong in June: 9 months ago,” Greenwald wrote Sunday.

With reporting from Alex Rogers

TIME Domestic Surveillance

Boehner Says NSA’s Mass Phone Data Collection Will End

The House Speaker praises new legislation to reform the controversial surveillance program

House Speaker John Boehner signaled his confidence Wednesday that the government will cease its bulk collection of data on millions of Americans’ phone calls, one day after President Barack Obama and House leaders floated competing plans to reform the controversial surveillance program.

Boehner’s comments came while describing a new bill from the House Intelligence Committee that is similar to the Obama’s proposal. The rare points of agreement between the White House and the GOP-controlled House make it increasingly likely the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone, email and Internet records will be drastically scaled back if not ended altogether.

“The bill represents a start of a bipartisan conversation about how we maintain our capability to thwart attack while addressing privacy and civil liberties concerns that many Americans have,” Boehner said of the House bill introduced Tuesday, while also reiterating his belief that the programs have saved American lives. “I expect that part of this effort will include the end of the government holding on to bulk data.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) unveiled a bill Tuesday that would allow the NSA to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without prior judicial approval. To assuage privacy concerns, the government would have to provide evidence supporting its targeting to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which could order the government to purge any metadata it received.

“Our bipartisan proposal authorizes the government to obtain only the metadata it uses to guard against terrorists and other foreign bad actors,” Rogers wrote in an op-ed for USA Today. “We would allow the government to obtain records of individual numbers for which there is a reasonable and articulable suspicion of an association with international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activity, plus the records of numbers connected with those suspect numbers.”

Obama’s plan would also end bulk collection of metadata, but require judicial approval before the NSA could obtain the records, not after. Obama said Tuesday that while there were “clear safeguards” in place, his proposal would eliminate the concern about what might happen with the data in the future.

Privacy hawks remains unswayed by the House proposal. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has competing legislation, scoffed at Ruppersberger’s comments that the House legislation will give the NSA a “flexible” system.”

“We’ve seen what the NSA does with their flexibility,” Leahy said, “and it’s been a disaster.”

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose leaks of secret NSA spying programs incited global outrage, said Tuesday that OBama’s plan represents a “turning point.”

“I believed that if the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans was known, it would not survive the scrutiny of the courts, the Congress, and the people,” Snowden wrote on the American Civil Liberties Union’s website.

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