Groups pressure U.S. lawmakers with NSA surveillance scorecard

Dozens of lawmakers getan F for NSA reform efforts in scorecard by EFF, Free Press and other groups

U.S. lawmakers got a report card on Friday: they've been graded by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups on whether they are effectively reining in the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.

The new StandAgainstSpying.org scorecard, which gives letter grades to U.S. legislators based on their sponsorship or votes on a handful of bills, aims to pressure lawmakers into passing NSA reform measures, said Rainey Reitman, the EFF's activism director. Greenpeace, Reddit, Free Press, the Sunlight Foundation and other groups are also behind the effort.

The scorecard rates U.S. representatives on their support for two of several NSA bills that lawmakers have introduced in the year since news organizations began publishing stories based on leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The original USA Freedom Act, before it was amended and weakened, and the Surveillance State Repeal Act represent the two "broadest, strongest" bills on NSA reform, the groups said.

The scorecard also gave points to House members who voted for two NSA-related amendments to a recent defense funding bill.

In the Senate, there's been less action on NSA surveillance reform. The groups gave senators points for sponsoring the original USA Freedom Act and took away points for senators who sponsored the FISA Improvements Act, which would add some transparency to the surveillance process, but allow the NSA programs to continue.

Dozens of lawmakers get an A on the scorecard, and many others get F's, with few getting grades in between. The ratings cross party lines, with many of Congress' more liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans getting high grades.

Among the lawmakers getting F's are Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The leadership of the House also rates poorly. Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, gets an F, as does Representative Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican and incoming majority leader, and Representative Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat and minority whip. Representative Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat and minority leader, gets a D.

Among lawmakers earning A grades are Democratic Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, three of the most vocal critics of NSA surveillance in the Senate. California Representatives Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda and Zoe Lofgren, all representing areas near Silicon Valley, also received A's.

Republican Representatives earning A's included Brett Guthrie of Kentucky, Justin Amash of Michigan, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and sponsor of the original USA Freedom Act.

The scorecard doesn't attempt to rate lawmakers on every NSA-related bill introduced in the past year. Of the two bills the groups focused on, the original USA Freedom Act had a "solid chance of passing" due to its high-profile sponsors, and the Surveillance State Repeal Act, sponsored by Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, "goes the furthest substantively," according to StandAgainstSpying.org.

Reitman expects the scorecard to help change some lawmakers' minds, she said. "Public pressure will push members of Congress to do the right thing in supporting meaningful limits on NSA spying," she said.

The groups will next focus on creating surveillance bill constituent guides, Reitman said. People will be able to visit StandAgainstSpying and download material to take to meetings with congressional staffers, so they can "continue to pressure Congress to do the right thing," she said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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