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POLITICS: PennAve

Nancy Pelosi looks to assuage angry Democrats with letter to Obama questioning NSA snooping

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is circulating to fellow Democrats a letter she intends to send to President Obama outlinging their concerns over the National Security Agency’s phone surveillance.

The letter asks the president to “explore options which will preserve Americans’ privacy and civil liberties while protecting our national security.”

Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday voted against a narrowly defeated amendment that would have curbed the controversial NSA program by blocking the agency from snooping on anyone who is not specifically the target of an investigation. Dozens of Democrats voted for the provision.

The Obama administration lobbied Congress to vote against the measure, which intelligence officials and critics say would have hindered the government’s abilities to track terrorist threats.

Pelosi’s letter questions whether the surveillance program that sweeps up millions of Americans' phone records is fully constitutional and whether it could be “tailored more narrowly to better ensure the protection of privacy and civil liberties.”

The classified NSA program was revealed this summer by contractor Edward Snowden and has divided both Republicans and Democrats. The amendment to kill the program was defeated Wednesday by a 217-205 vote.

The House intelligence panel plans to look into changes to the law this fall, but it is unlikely they will curtail the surveillance.

Full text of Pelosi's letter:

Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for your leadership in honoring our responsibility to protect and defend the American people. As you know, our challenge as elected officials is to preserve Americans’ liberties while protecting our national security.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives considered an amendment offered by Representatives Amash and Conyers to H.R. 2397, the Fiscal Year 2014 Defense Appropriations bill. The Amash-Conyers amendment would have limited NSA’s ability to collect bulk telecommunications records pursuant to Section 215 of the Patriot Act as codified in Section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Although the amendment was defeated 205-217, it is clear that concerns remain about the continued implementation of the program in its current form.

Although some of us voted for and others against the amendment, we all agree that there are lingering questions and concerns about the current 215 collection program. These include:

· Whether the bulk metadata telecommunications collection program sufficiently protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.

· Whether the program could be tailored more narrowly to better ensure the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

· Whether the law is being implemented in a manner consistent with Congressional intent.

· How we can ensure greater transparency regarding FISA court operations, decision making, and issuance of orders.

· Whether changes to the current FISA Court structure are needed.

Congress must examine the various national security collection programs and consider amendments to the law. We have been assured that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has embarked on a review of the collection programs done pursuant to FISA and the Patriot Act, and has agreed to review various legislative proposals.

We look forward to working with you and Administration officials to address the concerns outlined above and to explore options which will preserve Americans’ privacy and civil liberties while protecting our national security.

Thank you for your leadership and your attention to these concerns.

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