From the Land of the Liberty Bell: Investigate the NSA

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of PA

Here in Pennsylvania, we have a full-time legislature, so as the lobbyist for the Pennsylvania affiliate of the ACLU, I have plenty of opportunities for face time with state legislators and staff. Since June, I’ve been hearing a similar refrain repeatedly: NSA surveillance is a major problem. We deal with a lot of state-level surveillance legislation, and I’ve joked with legislators and staff that Edward Snowden has made my job a lot easier.Last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives formalized that concern by passing a resolution to protest the NSA’s sweeping surveillance activities and to call on Congress to create a special committee to investigate and to recommend revisions to the USA PATRIOT Act and for reforms at the NSA and the FBI. The vote on House Resolution 456 wasn’t even close.

The final tally: 194 to 2.

As an observer of civil liberties trends in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, I was not surprised by this overwhelming bipartisan vote. Our state House has made it clear on repeated occasions that it is serious about privacy. In October of 2012, the House defeated legislation to require DNA collection from people who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime. Two weeks ago, the House passed an amendment to require prosecutors to obtain a search warrant before they can access data from a prescription drug monitoring program. Both of these victories for civil liberties happened despite the objections of the Office of the Attorney General and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

The Pennsylvania House has good reason to worry. Since June, disclosure after disclosure has revealed that the NSA is vacuuming up the call records of nearly all Americans and is filtering through the contents of our international communications. The disclosures haven’t stopped though, and with each disclosure more and more Americans are saying “Stop watching us.”

Our state House made a strong statement in passing HR 456. We hope that Sens. Bob Casey, Jr.  and Pat Toomey and the rest of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation get the message clearly and support the USA FREEDOM Act introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) this week. Among other things, the billrightly ends the indiscriminate collection of American call records, as well as prohibits the bulk collection of any other records, and requires a court order before the government can search through its databases containing the international communications of Americans.

Pennsylvanians won’t stand for an overly-intrusive government that pokes its nose in our daily lives.