In the Privacy vs Security Debate posting of June 24 (, I left off wondering what constitutional law attorney Barry Richard thinks about the latest revelations of government surveillance in the name of national security. I heard from him recently, and here’s what he said:

“I have concerns about the extent of surveillance, but based on what the administration has reported, the conduct appears to be legal. The surveillance is authorized by federal statute and was pursuant to a warrant. The question is whether Congress has gone too far.”

So, the ball is in Congress’ court. Congress has authorized the eavesdropping on telephone and internet communications by the National Security Agency, so no one in that body should act surprised at the revelations of its extent by leaker Edward Snowdon. Apparently, some in Congress think it has indeed gone too far. A bipartisan group of 26 senators asked NSA Director James Clapper on June 28 to answer a series of questions about the spying program authorized in Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Among the questions: How long has NSA used the law to perform mass collection of Americans’ phone and internet communications? What specific instances of terrorist plots can NAS cite as having been thwarted by the secret eavesdropping operation that could not have been discovered by other means?

The Senate group’s leader, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the bulk collection authorized under Section 215 “raises serious civil liberties concerns and all but removes the public from an informed national security and civil liberty debate.”

I agree. The leaks exposing the extent of this operation have at least laid the groundwork for such a debate. As I ended my previous post on this issue, let’s have that debate. It’s crucial to a healthy democracy.

By David Klement

Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St.Petersburg College