Two top Obama administration officials this week endorsed proposed reforms in the intelligence community’s bulk collection of data on Americans.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper wrote to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday expressing support for reforms that go beyond a measure passed by the House in May that disappointed civil libertarians.
The Leahy bill, which has 18 co-sponsors, including three Republicans, would provide a stricter definition of the search terms used by the National Security Agency to seek data from phone companies and strengthened the role of a proposed public advocate within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The bill has been criticized by some liberals as not going far enough, but others, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have strongly backed it. Leahy is hoping it will be voted on by the full Senate next week, but that might require support from Republicans, who are split on the measure.
Holder and Clapper said the Leahy bill “preserves essential intelligence community capabilities” and described it as a “reasonable compromise that enhances privacy and civil liberties and increases transparency,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Times.
The letter marked the strongest administration support so far of Leahy's reform package. It was White House opposition that led to the passage of a watered-down House version.