Congress all but silent on surveillance of Internet records

The latest news that the National Security Agency and FBI are collecting data directly from the servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies made big waves Thursday evening.

Among members of Congress, though, the response has been crickets.

Eighteen hours after the story broke, basically no leading members of Congress have weighed in on the program. That stands in stark contrast to the swift and full-throated response to Wednesday's revelation that the NSA collected all of Verizon's phone records, both from opponents of the surveillance and supporters.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was asked about the PRISM report Thursday evening in the hours after it was revealed. He declined comment, citing the classified nature of the program and his status as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to an aide.

Top Republicans and Democrats on both the House and Senate intelligence committees have yet to comment either. After the Verizon story broke Wednesday, these members forcefully defended the program, saying it helped stop terrorism before it occurs.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), the leading Democratic voices for privacy and restraint in surveillance, have yet to weigh in either.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who like Udall and Wyden serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, weighed in on the issue Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and suggested that it might be best not to discuss too much of the specifics.

"That's one of the problems. Do you really want to call up al-Qaeda and say, 'Oh, by the way, we're going to be checking your e-mail on this or that server?'" King said. "That's one of the real dilemmas here."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), another liberal who serves on the Intelligence Committee, told WPRI's Ted Nesi that he's broadly supportive of what the Obama Administration is doing to prevent terrorism and comfortable with the programs, but he wouldn't talk specifically about PRISM.

"I have a real issue with talking about classified stuff," Whitehouse said. "Even if it's in the newspapers, if you have been briefed on programs it's a violation of the confidentiality laws."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), disagreed, reportedly comparing the programs to a "broad vacuum sweeping up data across America."

He said he had to seek special permission to learn about the programs.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a leading liberal voice in the House, issued a statement Friday morning on NSA surveillance, calling it “a serious breach of faith between the federal government and the American people." But his comments made no mention of the PRISM program.

Outside Congress, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), for one, called for an investigation into the program.

"Congress must initiate an investigation to fully uncover the scope of these powers and their constraints, and it must enact reforms that protect Americans’ right to privacy and that enable effective public oversight of our government," said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington office. "There is a time and a place for government secrecy, but true democracy demands that the governed be informed of the rules of play so as to hold elected officials to account.”

Updated at 1:04 p.m.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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