Controversial surveillance activities by the government were the focus of a Senate committee hearing Tuesday. Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report for NY1.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Momentum is building in Washington for reform of the nation's surveillance programs.
"I am concerned that the sweep of the surveillance has been far too broad with respect to law-abiding citizens," said Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas.
"We're really having a debate about 'What are Americans' fundamental relationship with their own government?' The government exists for Americans, not the other way around, and about whether government should have the power to create massive databases of information about its citizens," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
The existence of those databases was disclosed in the leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
In the wake of the revelations, President Barack Obama appointed an outside review panel to focus on data surveillance by the NSA. That five-member panel testified before the Senate judiciary committee Tuesday, detailing, and at times defending, their 46 recommendations.
"Much of our focus has been on maintaining the ability of intelligence community to do what it needs to do," said Cass Sunstein, a member of the White House review panel. "And we emphasize, if there's one thing to emphasize, it's this: that not one of the 46 recommendations in our report would, in our view, compromise or jeopardize that ability in any way."
Among its recommendations are that U.S. phone data should only be searched with the approval of a court, and phone data collected by the NSA should be stored by phone companies, not the government. Also recommended is appointing a public advocate for privacy issues to argue in secret court.
Obama has defended much of the intelligence gathering, but he's spent recent weeks reviewing the recommendations made by the White House review panel, and he's expected to announce on Friday the reforms he wants to make to the NSA's surveillance programs.
"The public, in the president's view, should hope for, and he hopes will get, steps from the government that makes our signal intelligence gathering more transparent," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
That's something lawmakers say they want as well.
"The saying is 'In war, law is the first casualty,' and you have provided a really profoundly important service in making sure that we do not have law as a casualty," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut,