"Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other elected officials?"
That's the question Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) put to the National Security Agency's chief in a bluntly worded letter Friday. It seems, however, that the agency cannot categorically say no.
Sanders didn't use the word "spy" lightly. He was careful to define his terms, indicating he meant the collection of phone records from personal as well as official telephones, "content from Web sites visited or e-mails sent," and data that companies collect but don't release to the public.
When asked by The Washington Post, an NSA spokesman said that the agency's privacy safeguards are effective at covering all Americans.
"Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons," the spokesman said. "We are reviewing Sen. Sanders’s letter now, and we will continue to work to ensure that all members of Congress, including Sen. Sanders, have information about NSA’s mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties.”
The answer is telling. We already know that the NSA collects records on virtually every phone call made in the United States. That program was renewed for the 36th time on Friday. If members of Congress are treated no differently than other Americans, then the NSA likely keeps tabs on every call they make as well.
It's a relief to know that Congress doesn't get a special carve-out (they're just like us!). But the egalitarianism of it all will likely be of little comfort to Sanders.