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The Cycle
updated 6/12/2013 9:48:46 PM ET 2013-06-13T01:48:46

Rep. Welch of Vermont says that there's no reason for the government to keep secret its surveillance of everyday Americans.

The basic approach to monitoring everyday communications by Americans was made legal by the Patriot Act, and expanded in 2008. A few members of Congress have been vocal critics of the law and voted against the extension. “I didn’t anticipate there would be this massive data collection by the NSA and by, in effect, the government,” Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, one of the Democrats who voted against the extension, said on Wednesday’s The Cycle.

There are two key issues in government surveillance: how we observe everyday Americans and the surveillance of suspected terrorists. “If the government is going to be having this massive data bank…there’s no reason it has to be kept secret. That should be disclosed by the administration and should be debated in public and people can make a decision about the trade-offs,” Rep. Welch said. “When there is a particular investigation focused on an individual because there is probable cause to think they may be up to something bad, that has to be secret and we have to maintain that in order for the investigation to have a shot to protect us.”

A Pew Poll shows that 56% of Americans think it is acceptable for the NSA to track our phone calls to investigate terrorism, while 41% believe it is unacceptable. “People do support the government taking appropriate steps for security and letting law enforcement and our security entities do their job in secret when its focused on a specific individual or terrorist threat,” Rep. Welch said. “But the blanket access to everything we do, if that’s what’s going to be proposed by our government, they should disclose that with the American people in advance.”

Video: Rep. Welch: Congress' perception of spying is different from what we've now seen

  1. Closed captioning of: Rep. Welch: Congress' perception of spying is different from what we've now seen

    >>> welcome back to the cycle. we're joined today by congressman peter welch who voefted against the fisa amendment act of 2,000. thanks for being with us.

    >> thank you.

    >> you are skeptical to some of the expansions of surveillance. two questions aft s off the top. number one, is this sort of what you were concerned about, and, two, what do you think of the new propoelsal this week of senator merkley argueling that at least some of the secret opinions should be published so there is a reasonable trance parent debate of what's going on.

    >> in fact i didn't anticipate there would be this massive data collection by the nsa and by in effect the government. i think senator merkley's on the right track. there's two issues here. this is what i think is important to make the distinction. one is if the government's going to be having this massive data bank of your telephone calls and mine and your e-mails and mine, that's not a particularized focus of the investigation. there's no reason it has to be secret. that should be disclosed by the administration and slould be debated in public and people should make a decision about the trade-off. that's something i think should be in public and discussed. also some of these opinions, if we don't see what the opinions are, we have no clue as to what's going on. in fact, i think there should be much more openless. the other point is when there's a particular investigation focused on an individual because there's probable cause to thing they may be up to something bad, that has to be secret and we have to maintain that in order for them to have a shot at being successful, but that's the distinction that's not being made now between an oversized policy and a particular investigation.

    >> congressman welsh, you talk a lot about oversight. but what do you think congress should do legislatively to address some of the ongoing concerns that we're seeing with the overwhelming oversight or overwhelming issues with the prism program and in essay, the surveillance more generally? is it the repeal of the patriot act or fisa steps? what do you suggest?

    >> i suggest the mercury approach to tighten up that 'approach in the patriot act but i think the prospect's success are limited. in fact, i think this is a role that is much more suited to us is oversight. i mean why is it that this policy of data collection should be secret? you know, there's a lot of americans that support that. you know, if it's a private company that's getting all this information, they have a duty of disclosure , so i think disclosure would allow us to have that debate. another thing that's a concern to me is a lot of these demands are going to be driven by the corporations. booz allen hamilton has basically one cliechblt there's going to be an interest on the part of companies to drive up expense. in fact, i think with disclosure you're going have beater debate about what it is financially and education wise and i think the american people would be pretty reasonable.

    >> congressman, some of the defense of programs like prism is that congress has been briefed on this, and, in fact, we're getting reports that many congressional reports did not feel they were sufficiently briefed on the programmes.

    >> well, i didn't get briefed, not that i know of. if somebody said it at a passing glance, it went right by me. but there's a more important question. shouldn't the american people be briefed? it's their money, their privacy. and if i'm a member of congress and i get briefed, then i'm prohibited from sharing what i learned with the people i represent so i'm muzzled. in fact, the american people themselves are the ones who have to be involved. and, again, this is where i just don't understand why we don't disclose what these approaches are that we're taking when it has to do with a comprehensive gathering of data and it does not in any way threaten a specific investigation. that's where you've got to step aside and let the law enforcement do its job secretly the way they want to do it.

    >> some peel talk about when we disclose the methods that then does not compromise the decision ones but the program. what do you think of that argument?

    >> i think it's kind of bogus. just think about it. if the nsa has all of your telephone calls and mine and all of your e-mails and mine and we know that's true for every american, how is that -- to the terrorist, that is -- that doesn't get to the specifics of what they're going to do or how they're going do it. it tends to be self-serving. let's give americans the credit that they can make appropriate decisions about repeating consideration of privacy and security. you know, people do support the government taking appropriate steps for security and they do support letting law enforcement and security entities the do thank job when it's focused a specific individual or terrorist threat. but the blanket access to everything we do, if that's what's proposed, they should disclose that with the american people in advance.

    >> congressman thank you for spending time with us. we know it's a busy day where you had votes, the senate looking into testimony and we understand it will be down on the house for -- house side for a closed hearing tomorrow. thanks for making time with us.

    >> thank you.

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