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Senator blasts NSA for spending too much time 'collecting data on innocent Americans'

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Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has been a vocal critic of the NSA's sweeping surveillance of phone and internet records since the first round of leaks about the secret programs occurred last summer. But today, Leahy unleashed his most blistering assessment of the NSA, saying in a statement, "I am particularly concerned that the NSA has strayed and overreached beyond its core missions," and adding: "one important step toward rebuilding that trust would be for the NSA to spend less of its time collecting data on innocent Americans, and more on keeping our nation’s secrets safe and holding its own accountable."

In order to try and help rebuild the lost trust, Leahy announced a new hearing for November 20th, asking both NSA director General Keith Alexander and his boss, director of National Intelligence James Clapper, to testify. Both Alexander and Clapper have appeared in numerous hearings since the summer but have consistently defended the NSA's surveillance programs, evading questions about the NSA's own admitted misconduct. Unfortunately, it's highly likely that this hearing will surface anything new, nor will it on its own affect change within the NSA. Plus, the Senate intelligence committee just passed a continuing NSA funding, and another "reform" bill it passed last week didn't offer any substantive restrictions on NSA surveillance.

But Leahy has been a persistent advocate of US consumer privacy online, and is one of the leading backers of a new bill designed to end the NSA's bulk collection of US phone records metadata. He's also the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, so his hearing may offer the best jumping-off point for surveillance reform going forward. We will be closely following the outcome of the hearing and the path of his reform bill either way.