U.S. Capitol

By David Lightman | McClatchy Washington Bureau
Friday, June 14, 2013

WASHINGTON — The American people are growing increasingly concerned about reports of domestic spying. And Congress isn’t sure how to respond.

The public’s views have been evolving over the past week and a half. When news broke earlier this month that the National Security Agency could tap data from phone and Internet companies, most people accepted the tradeoff between security and privacy. Members of Congress routinely defended the programs.

Not anymore. By week’s end, polls suggested a groundswell of concern and lawmakers were hearing from constituents. Conversations at the Capitol had a new hue: Sure, the government says it has safeguards in place so it won’t listen to my calls and read my emails – but can it ever really control some rogue operator? And where is all that data? Who’s in charge?

The politicians are in a fix. Administration officials have secret briefings and most lawmakers walk out tight-lipped, skittish about revealing any details or betraying any doubts.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, defends the programs but concedes the rising concerns are “an education issue.” And, he laments, “Our hands are always tied on intelligence because we can’t say a lot of things we’d like to.”

Evidence of lawmakers responding to the mounting public concern keeps surfacing. Committee hearings called for other purposes became dominated by tough questioning of administration officials about spying. House of Representatives members emerged from a high-level briefing questioning whether oversight was adequate. Senators from both parties, including Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, pledged a fresh look at the programs.

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