Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, has consistently been one of the strongest supporters of the FISA Amendments Act, which authorizes the NSA's surveillance activities. She's helped craft CISPA, a cybersecurity bill that's been repeatedly delayed over fears it will compromise internet user privacy. But even she thinks tapping German chancellor Angela Merkel's phone for years is a bridge too far. In a statement today, Feinstein condemns spying on America's allies.
It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community.
Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed. Therefore our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.
With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of US allies — including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany — let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed.
Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers. The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort.
President Barack Obama has denied he knew of or approved the surveillance. "That is a big problem," Feinstein says. "Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. To that end, the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs." Obama has already committed to a review of the intelligence community, but Feinstein's statement puts significantly more weight behind an investigation.
That doesn't mean, however, that she'll be opposing the rest of the NSA's surveillance programs. Feinstein has denied that Congress was uninformed about FISA surveillance, and nothing she says now contradicts that. As Freedom of the Press director Trevor Timm and others have noted, this condemnation isn't really good for overall privacy rights. But it isn't necessarily ideologically inconsistent, either: FISA supporters have argued that no collected data is examined without suspicion of wrongdoing, whereas Merkel appears to be specifically targeted for surveillance for reasons that have nothing to do with anti-terrorism.
As the White House has attempted to smooth over the revelation, Germany is still plotting its course of action. Reuters reports that the German parliament has called a special session to debate the issue, as some members call for a full investigation.