The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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June 30, 2013

Pols: Balance protection, privacy

— Ever since details about a top-secret National Security Agency mass surveillance program were leaked last month, politicians have been re-examining what they knew – or thought they knew – concerning the federal government’s domestic information-gathering practices.

One local U.S. House of Representatives member said he was not informed at all about the project.

“I was never fully briefed on it,” said Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, from the 12th district. “I was never briefed on it, period.”

Rothfus took office in January.

Two other elected officials with more time in Washington, D.C. – former Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, and Sen. Bob Casey, both Democrats, said they knew about the surveillance, but not its full scope.

“I’d say there was a good bit of general knowledge, but in the last few days and weeks, I’ve learned some things I didn’t know,” Casey said. “It’s a reminder we have to remain vigilant. ... I think we’re just beginning to learn some of the details about how the information is gathered and where it lands and how it’s used.”

Critz, who represented the 12th district from May 2010 until this January, and Rothfus expressed concerns about the size of the surveillance.

“I always was a little queasy about how much leeway is given to agencies and what they can and can’t collect,” said Critz, a former member of the  House Armed Services Committee. “They are given such a breadth to collect the information they did.”

Rothfus stated: “I am very troubled with there being some super database.”

Those three and a spokesperson for Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, discussed the need to balance protection and privacy going forward.

Toomey’s staff member said privacy is a major concern for the senator and cited his support of an amendment that would have required the director of national intelligence to submit a report about the impact of surveillance on American citizens.

“There are multiple facets to this,” Critz said. “Since 9/11 and the Patriot Act, there is far more surveillance of U.S. citizens than there has ever been. That’s a subject where we walk a fine line because we value our freedom. ... It brings to light what is enough and what is too much. That’s something us citizens, working through elected officials, need to decide.”

Casey added, “It’s reminding us of the delicate balance we have to strike.”

Edward Snowden, a former system administrator with Booz Allen Hamilton, publicly revealed classified information concerning the collection of telephone, Internet and email metadata as part of the PRISM program. His position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted him access to NSA information. Snowden has been charged with three felonies, including two under the Espionage Act.

Toomey strongly opposes the leaks. Critz called for Snowden to be dealt with “expeditiously.”

Government agencies said the information was used only to find terrorists and not to spy on American citizens.

“They have a great understanding of what the legal limits are,” Casey said.

The area’s other congressman, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, from the 9th district, was not available for comment.

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