Secretary of State John Kerry promised Europeans on Tuesday that the U.S. would strike "the right balance" on surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency, while the Senate faces division on whether or not to continue that surveillance.
"We have to strike the right balance between protecting our citizens and, obviously, the privacy of all of our citizens," Kerry said on Tuesday during a speech in Warsaw after talks with Poland's foreign minister. His comments follow recent revelations of alleged NSA surveillance of foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Obama administration has ordered a review of the NSA's activities, and President Barack Obama welcomes the input of U.S. allies on how to improve the intelligence gathering process, Kerry said.
"We can actually strengthen our intelligence relationships going forward and we can all be more secure and safer as a result, as well as protecting the privacy of citizens," Kerry said.
Unity on the issue of mass surveillance is not so evident in the Senate. The Senate Intelligence Committee on Oct. 31 approved a bill that would retain the bulk data collection conducted by the NSA, setting up a showdown in the Senate on how to reform the agency and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The FISA Improvements Act, introduced by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., calls for reforms to oversight of the NSA including criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison for inappropriately accessing data acquired using FISA, increased reporting on queries for NSA's phone metadata, restrictions on access to phone records and creation of a privacy advocate at the FISA court.
"The NSA call-records program is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight, and I believe it contributes to our national security," Feinstein said in a statement on Oct. 31. "But more can and should be done to increase transparency and build public support for privacy protections in place."
Despite the increased oversight the NSA's bulk collection of online data would continue, drawing into contrast with the explicit ban on the practice by the USA Freedom Act, which was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. There is also a House version of the Freedom Act introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. "The threats we face—from terrorism, proliferation and cyber attack, among others—are real, and they will continue. Intelligence is necessary to protect our national and economic security, as well as to stop attacks against our friends and allies around the world," Feinstein said. "I look forward to working with Chairman Leahy and the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to move legislation to the Senate floor as soon as possible."