NSA's privacy pledges not enough for some in Congress
- By Dan Verton
- Feb 29, 2000
The National Security Agency's assurances that it does not intentionally
eavesdrop on the electronic communications of U.S. citizens and that it
adheres to legal guidelines governing its activities are not enough for
some members of Congress, who plan to hold hearings on the agency and its
activities later this year.
Shortly after NSA delivered to Congress a report on the legal standards
governing the intelligence community's electronic surveillance conduct,
as required by the fiscal 2000 Intelligence Authorization Act, Rep. Bob
Barr (R-Ga.) sent a letter to NSA's director, Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael
Hayden, outlining "problems" with current laws and regulations.
In his Feb. 28 letter, Barr said Hayden's assurances that the Fourth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution adequately protects citizens' privacy
regardless of the technologies used in NSA's electronic surveillance operations
"grossly oversimplifies the difficulty of protecting privacy in light of
recent technological advances."
NSA is a civilian intelligence agency within the Defense Department
responsible for intercepting and analyzing communications signals of foreign
adversaries and terrorist groups. However, the agency's activities have
come under scrutiny as a result of widespread allegations that it takes
part in a global surveillance network known as Echelon that regularly intercepts
the communications of private citizens worldwide.
Sources on Capitol Hill say Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the
House Government Reform Committee, plans to hold hearings on NSA activities
soon and may meet with Barr in the next few weeks to map out a hearing strategy.
In his letter to Hayden, Barr, a member of the Government Reform Committee
and a former CIA officer, said he is concerned about the ability of current
laws and executive orders to keep pace with information technology.
"As past NSA abuses have shown, privacy rights are better protected
by relying on an evolving, explicit legal structure than by solely on the
good faith of government employees wielding massive power and reciting generalities,"