The basic approach to monitoring everyday communications by Americans was made legal by the Patriot Act, and expanded in 2008. A few members of Congress have been vocal critics of the law and voted against the extension. “I didn’t anticipate there would be this massive data collection by the NSA and by, in effect, the government,” Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, one of the Democrats who voted against the extension, said on Wednesday’s The Cycle.
There are two key issues in government surveillance: how we observe everyday Americans and the surveillance of suspected terrorists. “If the government is going to be having this massive data bank…there’s no reason it has to be kept secret. That should be disclosed by the administration and should be debated in public and people can make a decision about the trade-offs,” Rep. Welch said. “When there is a particular investigation focused on an individual because there is probable cause to think they may be up to something bad, that has to be secret and we have to maintain that in order for the investigation to have a shot to protect us.”
A Pew Poll shows that 56% of Americans think it is acceptable for the NSA to track our phone calls to investigate terrorism, while 41% believe it is unacceptable. “People do support the government taking appropriate steps for security and letting law enforcement and our security entities do their job in secret when its focused on a specific individual or terrorist threat,” Rep. Welch said. “But the blanket access to everything we do, if that’s what’s going to be proposed by our government, they should disclose that with the American people in advance.”