Senate Plans Scrutiny of NSA Tactics Defended by Director

The government surveillance of U.S. citizens will be examined by a Senate committee tomorrow, two days after the National Security Agency director defended the spy agency’s tactics, saying they comply with legal constraints.

The Senate’s intelligence committee is working toward legislation that would curb the NSA’s collection of bulk telephone records and other electronic data, according to a statement late yesterday announcing the hearing. The House of Representatives last month voted to end one of the most controversial domestic spy programs under which the NSA collects and stores as much as five years of phone records on Americans.

“We do need to make some changes in the way we handle our monitoring of individuals,” Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel, said yesterday. “It is a very delicate balance, a very delicate line we have to walk.”

Admiral Michael S. Rogers, who became NSA director in April, took over an agency grappling with the global backlash to its spying techniques exposed in documents leaked by former agency contractor Edward Snowden. Rogers said agencies, companies and citizens need to come to terms with how data is collected and used, though he said the NSA abides by “very specific restrictions” on monitoring U.S. citizens.

“We do not do this in some unilateral basis against U.S. citizens,” Rogers said at a Bloomberg Government cybersecurity conference in Washington yesterday.

In the wide-ranging interview, Rogers said he wants to change the public focus on what the NSA does to how it exists to protect the country and the constraints it works under.

Witnesses for tomnorrow’s hearing include Deputy U.S. Attorney General James M. Cole; NSA Deputy Director Richard H. Ledgett, and FBI Deputy Director Mark F. Giuliano.

‘Too Far’

The House bill would require the government to get approval from a secret court in order to direct mobile-phone companies and other telecommunications carriers to search their records for certain data.

The House went “a little too far” in a bill it passed in May making changes to the NSA’s program of collecting bulk phone records, which could slow down counterterrorism investigations, Chambliss said at the conference yesterday.

Chambliss called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow an open debate on the chamber’s floor.

Chambliss said he also is close to reaching an agreement with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, on another bill related to cybersecurity.

The bill would give companies legal protections for sharing information about hacking threats with the government, as long as they did so through a new portal that would have to be created, Chambliss said.

“There’s a real possibility” the Senate will pass the bill this year, Chambliss said. The House has already passed similar cybersecurity legislation.

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