Tuesday, June 11, 2013 | 2:03 p.m.
Since reports that the government is keeping records on the country’s phone and Internet traffic broke last week, Sen. Harry Reid has been downplaying the revelations’ shock value, advising that the nation should “just calm down.”
Now, the Senate Majority Leader has harsh words for lawmakers who are expressing surprise and disdain about the extent of the government’s clandestine information gathering.
“For senators to complain that, ‘I didn’t know this was happening,’ we’ve had many, many meetings that have been both classified and unclassified that members have been invited to...They’ve had every opportunity to be aware about these programs,” Reid said.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of eight senators, including Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller, introduced a bill to force the government to disclose the activities and opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It is the “secret court” that gives the government permission to monitor communications and collect and store information.
“Ensuring Americans’ safety is one of our government’s most important responsibilities, but there is a careful balance between protecting Americans and honoring the Fourth Amendment,” Heller said in a statement. “This legislation is a measured approach that will bring more transparency to the FISA court.”
The Fourth Amendment protects people against unwarranted search and seizure of “their persons, houses, papers and effects.” It also sets the standard that “probable cause” is necessary to secure a warrant to conduct searches.
The senators behind the bill, led by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, argue that a serious discussion about the appropriate trade-off between privacy and security can’t happen without ending the law that allows such courts to conduct their business in secret.
When asked what he thought of their bill, Reid said it was not fair to ask him to comment on a piece of legislation that was still just “an idea.” But he said he’d be “happy to take a look” at what they’ve done.