The only question now should be how far Congress goes to rein in domestic spying, not whether it does anything at all. As revelation after revelation has made clear, the National Security Agency has expanded its collection of phone and Internet records far beyond what many Americans knew or support.
Several thousand people are expected to gather today near the U.S. Capitol to denounce the government dragnet. They will present petitions with nearly 600,000 signatures demanding that Congress end the blanket surveillance.
In the nearly five months since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle, Congress has held hearings, where government officials sought to reassure us. But it has taken very little constructive action. Contrast that with Europe. On Monday, a European Parliament committee approved sweeping rules to strengthen online privacy and to outlaw the sorts of data transfers used by U.S. intelligence agencies. British parliamentarians have pledged to hear directly from the public as they consider whether to update privacy laws.
These days, Europeans are hopping mad about reports that the U.S. eavesdropped on their leaders, some of our staunchest allies. After allegations that her cell phone has been monitored, German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained directly to President Barack Obama.
Because the 9/11 attacks happened here, it's understandable why many Americans believe such widespread monitoring is required to stop the terrorists.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is working on a modest bill to make the NSA programs more transparent, strengthen oversight by Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and add privacy safeguards. The Senate Judiciary Committee is also considering legislation. Among the bills:
* S. 1467 would add a "special advocate" to argue for individual rights before the intelligence court, which now only hears from the government, and would require more public disclosure of its decisions.
* S. 1551 would end bulk collection of Americans' phone calls and limit the surveillance of online data.
While unlikely to pass, the most far-reaching bill is in the House. H.R. 2818 would halt much of the domestic snooping by repealing the Patriot Act.
Nearly 20 other bills have been introduced. There are plenty of ideas to sift through to come up with smart reform. What is Congress waiting for?