Mostly clear

North Coast congressmen diverge on phone data mining

Rep. Jared Huffman wants major changes to the government's mass collection of telephone records, a recently revealed program he says may be trampling on the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches.

Judges who oversee the National Security Agency's telephone data collection program should be openly appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, Huffman said. Telephone companies — not the federal agency — should maintain the records.

"That's got to change," said Huffman, D-San Rafael, of the NSA's telephone dragnet, condemned by civil libertarians, liberal Democrats and some Republicans.

"I am absolutely outraged that the government knows who I call and who calls me," said Alice Chan of Sebastopol, an elected delegate to the California Democratic Central Committee.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, defended the controversial program, contending that national security and personal privacy are not "mutually exclusive."

The NSA program, which survived a House vote last month, has "prevented no less than 12 terrorist attacks targeting Americans on U.S. soil in recent years" without infringing "on anyone's constitutional rights," Thompson said.

The national uproar over the mining of phone records, prompting a response from President Barack Obama last week, followed revelations of the program in June by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor now living in Russia.

In early July, Chan publicly questioned why Huffman and Thompson, the North Coast's two Democratic congressmen, had made no public comment on the issue nor posted a statement on their websites.

"We need our elected representatives to provide leadership when our rights are in question," Chan wrote in an opinion page essay in The Press Democrat.

Huffman announced in a press release his July 24 vote for an amendment to curtail the NSA program, describing it as "indiscriminate surveillance of all Americans."

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