By Alex Zank
The first vote that U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) cast after entering the Senate in 1975 was to create the Church Committee to investigate abuses by the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies.
“More than 38 years after I cast my first vote on the floor of the Senate, we continue our fight to ensure that the privacy rights and civil liberties of Americans are not swept aside in the name of national security,” Leahy said on Tuesday to an audience at Georgetown University Law Center.
The keynote speaker during the first of three Georgetown-hosted discussions regarding intelligence gathering, Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, connected the past with the present.
“I am convinced that the system set up in the 1970s to regulate the surveillance capabilities of our intelligence community is no longer working,” he said. “We must recalibrate.”
The National Security Agency came under fire after former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden released documents establishing that it possesses the ability to gather data from phone conversations and Internet activity by citizens.
Leahy called for a review of the scope of the government’s surveillance powers; of the existing oversight structure, especially concerning the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court; and of the extent to which domestic surveillance programs must remain classified.
“Americans increasingly live online and create electronic records of their daily activities without even realizing it,” he said. “Americans communicate with each other much differently than they did 40 years ago. Our laws and our oversight must keep pace with this changing technology.”
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