The Members of Congress Who Want to Reform NSA Surveillance

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Slowly — very, very slowly — attitudes toward NSA surveillance among Congressional representatives appear to be changing. A report from The Washington Post indicating that members of the Democratic leadership are open to reform measures warrants the question: How many total members of Congress currently support reform?

To figure that out, we first had to define what we meant by reform. We came up with three options, dealing with the two laws that enable the surveillance. The first law is the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001 and revised in 2006 to allow the collection of phone records. The second is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was amended in 2008 to approve the government's surveillance of online activity.

  • Release the court's opinions on use of surveillance. This is the lowest level of reform. It would demand that the administration (through the Department of Justice) release the legal opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that indicate how the surveillance is legal under the laws.
  • Reform the bills or their amendments. The next level of reform is to ask that the bills be changed to prevent the sort of mass data collection that has been in progress by the NSA.
  • Repeal of the bills or their amendments. The most extreme option would be to repeal the bills as they exist, presumably removing the legal authority for the agency to conduct its surveillance.

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So how do both chambers of Congress break down? Overall, not well. In the graphs below, the red slices show the number of members of Congress opposed to the reform. The blue slices are those in support.




If there's any good news, it's that support for reform, where it exists, is generally bipartisan. Here is the breakdown by party for release and reform. (Repeal's bipartisan, too — no member of either House supports the idea publicly.)

Update, July 9: A representative of Rep. Justin Amash's office pointed us to House Bill 2399, which greatly expanded the "reform" category.



The most popular measure, release of the Court's opinions on the surveillance, gained support today from Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Minority Leader, and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, according to the Post. Here's the breakdown by chamber. Darker colors indicate support, with red representing Republicans and blue, Democrats.



Clearly, even the most popular idea for reform is still a long way from being passed in either chamber. But this also only documents those elected officials who have a stated opinion on the subject. Others may support a measure once introduced. For example, a measure by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon last year that would have released the FISC's opinions yielded 37 votes on the Senate floor.


Photo: Sen. Schumer and Rep. Pelosi leave the White House. (AP)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.