President Barack Obama’s call for American lawmakers to reform a National Security Agency surveillance program has sparked a battle between defenders of the spying activities and critics who say the government is abusing civil liberties.
Brendan Buck, spokesman for Boehner, said in a statement that “much of any public concern about this critical program can be attributed to the president’s reluctance to sufficiently explain and defend it.”
“Transparency is important, but we expect the White House to insist that no reform will compromise the operational integrity of the program,” Buck said, as quoted by The Hill.
“That must be the president’s red line, and he must enforce it. Our priority should continue to be saving American lives, not saving face,” he said.
On Friday, President Obama called on Congress to reform Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the NSA to collect phone records of American citizens.
“Given the scale of this program, I understand the concerns of those who worry that it could lead to abuse,” President Obama said. “I believe that there are steps we can take to give the American people additional confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse.”
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said Obama’s call was a “monumental failure in presidential wartime leadership and responsibility.”
“These programs are legal, transparent and contain the appropriate checks and balances among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our government,” King said in a statement. “These intelligence tools keep Americans safe every single day.”
The dispute over the NSA program began two months ago when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed documents indicating that the super spy agency is collecting phone call records of American citizens.
Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, is charged with espionage and theft of government property in the US.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a NSA critic, praised the Obama’s announcement saying “this is an important first step.”
However, he added that he would “keep fighting to ensure it’s not the administration’s last in this direction.”
Udall introduced a bill with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would end the bulk collection of phone records, The Hill said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also praised Obama’s comments. He said in a statement, “If we are going to have the debate that the President has called for, then the executive branch must be a full partner.”
“I will carefully examine the materials released today and will continue to press for greater transparency, including the release of significant FISA Court opinions about the Section 215 program,” Leahy added.
Last month, the House narrowly voted down an amendment to a bill that would have reigned in the NSA’s collection of phone records. Observers say despite Obama’s proposal to change the FISA court, there may not be enough support for significant reform.