- Congress has squared off with the National
Security Agency over a top-secret U.S. global electronic surveillance program,
requesting top intelligence officials to report on the legal standards
used to prevent privacy abuses against U.S. citizens.
- According to an amendment to the fiscal
2000 Intelligence Authorization Act proposed last month by Rep. Bob Barr
(R-Ga.), the director of Central Intelligence, the director of NSA and
the attorney general must submit a report within 60 days of the bill becoming
law that outlines the legal standards being employed to safeguard the privacy
of American citizens against Project Echelon.
- Echelon is NSA's Cold War-vintage global
spying system, which consists of a worldwide network of clandestine listening
posts capable of intercepting electronic communications such as e-mail,
telephone conversations, faxes, satellite transmissions, microwave links
and fiber-optic communications traffic. However, the European Union last
year raised concerns that the system may be regularly violating the privacy
of law-abiding citizens [*FCW, Nov. 17, 1998].
- However, NSA, the supersecret spy agency
known best for its worldwide eavesdropping capabilities, for the first
time in the history of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
refused to hand over documents on the Echelon program, claiming attorney/client
- Congress is "concerned about the
privacy rights of American citizens and whether or not there are constitutional
safeguards being circumvented by the manner in which the intelligence agencies
are intercepting and/or receiving international communications...from foreign
nations that would otherwise be prohibited by...the limitations on the
collection of domestic intelligence," Barr said. "This very straightforward
amendment...will help guarantee the privacy rights of American citizens
[and] will protect the oversight responsibilities of the Congress which
are now under assault" by the intelligence community.
- Calling NSA's argument of attorney/client
privilege "unpersuasive and dubious," committee chairman Rep.
Peter J. Goss (R-Fla.) said the ability of the intelligence community to
deny access to documents on intelligence programs could "seriously
hobble the legislative oversight process" provided for by the Constitution
and would "result in the envelopment of the executive branch in a
cloak of secrecy."
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- Copyright 1999 FCW Government Technology