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07/09/2013

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Dear Christopher,

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding intelligence programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA) that have been reported on in the media. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this important issue.

Let me first say that the NSA should never be allowed access to the content of phone calls or internet communications by any US person, unless a court warrant is issued, and I will do all I can to prevent that from happening. Any provision that allows federal officials to investigate people's data must also adequately protect the individual civil liberties that are a bedrock principle of our democracy. That said, it is also important that we provide continuity and stability for our intelligence community as they work to minimize the risk of an attack on the United States. To achieve this delicate balance, it is vitally important that Congress continue to debate and devise better ways to not only protect Americans from threats of terrorism but also to safeguard individual rights and liberties.

Recent news reports reference two separate intelligence programs. The first is authorized by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act and provides for the collection of telephony metadata, such as telephone numbers dialed and the length of calls, when authorized by an order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The second program, authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, concerns the targeting of communication of non-U.S. persons located abroad for foreign intelligence purposes such as counterterrorism. In addition to these programs being authorized by law and having judicial oversight, members of the Congressional Intelligence Committees are regularly briefed on such intelligence programs.

While it is important that there is judicial oversight to serve as a check on the authorities provided by FISA, I believe that there should be more transparency of this process. In the 112th Congress, I expressed my support for a proposal that would have provided greater transparency to the actions of the FISA Court by requiring the Attorney General to make publically available a declassified summary of every decision, order, or opinion of the FISA court. Unfortunately, this proposal was not allowed to be debated on the House floor.

In the weeks and months ahead, please be assured that I will continue to use my role in Congress to conduct robust oversight of our intelligence programs, work to ensure our Constitutional rights are protected, and push for additional measures to improve transparency of the FISA Court. As I do so, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind.

Sincerely,

Adam Smith
Member of Congress

When the answer is inevitably a long, pre-composed essay that never touches upon decisions made or actual plans that would have any effect, I'm not sure there's any value in writing to politicians. This sort of warm pap is the same thing I get back from my members of Congress when I write, which usually is just enough to assure me that an intern dropped my name into the thematically-appropriate list before shredding my message. Democracy is dead in more than one way.

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