LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Los Angeles pastor whose church is part of a broad coalition of groups suing the National Security Agency (NSA) for allegedly collecting their call records illegally was cautiously optimistic of proposed reforms by the President.
Reverend Rick Hoyt of First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles is one of several plaintiffs named in a lawsuit filed in July (PDF) targeting a bulk telephone records collection program that plaintiffs say was confirmed by the publication of an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in June.
In a White House press conference, President Obama said he would work with Congress to change the oversight of some of the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance programs. He also said he would name a new panel of outside experts to review technologies.
Specifically, the president says he wants to work with Congress to provide an opposing voice in arguments before the secret court that approves massive government surveillance efforts. The court currently hears only from Justice Department officials who want the surveillance approved.
The secret court and other surveillance programs like the Associational Tracking Program – which, according to the complaint, “collects and acquires telephone communications information for all telephone calls transiting the networks of all major American telecommunication companies” – have been under scrutiny since NSA leaker Edward Snowden revealed classified programs in June.
The government has defended these programs as necessary to prevent terror attacks.
But Hoyt told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO he sees a policy shift in the Administration.
“The tone is shifting from defense of the program to advocating for reforms for the program, which is exactly what we’ve been asking for all along,” Hoyt said. “I see this as a very positive first step.”
in addition to the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, the full list of plaintiffs named in the complaint includes the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Council on American Islamic Relations-California, Calguns Foundation, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, People for the American Way, and TechFreedom.
But despite the President’s signals, Hoyt said the lawsuit will proceed until further notice.
“We want to have actual change and not just discussion, so we’re in it for the long haul,” he said.
Also on Friday, the Justice Department released the legal rationale for the sweeping collection of U.S. phone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act – months after lawmakers like Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., one of the authors of the Patriot Act, called on the Justice Department to do so.
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