Common Cause Calls for Greater Congressional Oversight of Surveillance Programs, Clapper Testimony Inquiry

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Mary Boyle
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Common Cause Calls for Greater Congressional Oversight of Surveillance Programs, Clapper Testimony Inquiry

WASHINGTON - Congress must intensify its scrutiny of National Security Agency (NSA) programs to collect and review Americans’ telephone records and Internet traffic, Common Cause said today.

“What checks are in place to prevent abuse, and how can innocent citizens know if their privacy has been wrongly violated?” the non-partisan watchdog group asked in a letter sent to all 535 members of Congress. “Legal and regulatory guidelines must be established and followed to ensure there are sufficient checks on government power.”

In addition, Common Cause called on the Senate Intelligence Committee to open a formal inquiry into whether Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied when he testified that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect data about Americans’ telephone and Internet usage.

“Congress and President Obama must make it clear that no one, not even the nation’s top intelligence official, is permitted to knowingly mislead Congress,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause’s senior vice president for strategy and programs.

Clapper himself has acknowledged that he gave ‘the least untruthful answer’ he could think of in his March 12 testimony. “That’s at best a charitable description. If a proper inquiry establishes that he deliberately lied, the committee and the President should take appropriate action to hold him accountable,” Hobert Flynn said.

Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Clapper was asked by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”

"No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect – but not wittingly," Clapper replied.

Recent reports, the accuracy of which has been acknowledged by the Obama administration, “make it clear that for years the NSA has collected telephone and Internet usage records on hundreds of millions of Americans, just as Sen. Wyden’s inquiry suggested,” Hobert Flynn said.

“If the director felt a candid answer in open session would compromise national security, he could have suggested that the committee to go into executive session,” Hobert Flynn said. “Indeed, he did just that in response to a number of other inquires.

“Some and perhaps even all of the NSA activities that have recently come to light may be permissible under existing law,” she said. “But if so, the law gives the government far more authority than most Americans had understood. That’s why it’s so important that our elected representatives and the administration closely scrutinize the way the law is being applied and that we get candid, fully truthful answers about the extent of any surveillance.”

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Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

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