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Originally published Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 4:36 PM

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Editorial: Congress must challenge NSA

President Obama continues to avoid any serious oversight of domestic spying by the National Security Agency. Congress must step up.


Seattle Times Editorial

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CAN bipartisan frustration with the Obama administration’s indulgence of domestic spying unite and inspire a dysfunctional Congress to take action?

Americans concerned about basic freedoms and privacy are left to rely on that political alchemy.

President Obama offers little else as he continues to defend the need to vacuum up vast amounts of phone records, email information and Internet data. Neither does the president hold out hope for Americans of official restraint and changes of behavior.

Options for remedial action are deferred until his Department of Justice conducts a review, or Congress revises laws. Until then, it is pretty much business as usual.

What the president did make clear in a speech last week is that expectations of timely judicial review and legal permission to gather and rummage through personal information are a false hope.

Would the president change those procedures? Perhaps some of them, if the DOJ approves and Congress passes legislation. The president did not wink and grin, but he might as well have.

Obama would not even approve requiring the FBI to seek court authorization for so-called national security letters that empower agents to look into an individual’s bank and cellphone records.

He would not embrace a bigger role for the courts in screening government requests to invade privacy. He might go for phone and Internet companies storing bulk information instead of the government, and then have agents root around as need be.

On Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007, raised its voice against the phone data gathering.

Meanwhile, the government is exploring ways to weaken encryption standards, but Obama would not acknowledge the topic.

A panel of security experts assembled by the White House to look at current practices came up with more than 40 recommendations. Most were ignored.

They also noted the NSA could not cite a single instance where its bulk collection of telephone data had made a difference. The Board agreed with that opinion.

If the president will not act, then Congress must take steps to promote legal oversight of these extraordinary levels of domestic spying. Make the federal government defend its practices and requests before a judge.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).



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