Slowly -- very, very slowly -- attitudes toward NSA surveillance among Congressional representatives appear to be changing. A report from The Washington Post indicating that members of the Democratic leadership are open to reform measures warrants the question: How many total members of Congress currently support reform?
To figure that out, we first had to define what we meant by reform. We came up with three options, dealing with the two laws that enable the surveillance. The first law is the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001 and revised in 2006 to allow the collection of phone records. The second is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was amended in 2008 to approve the government's surveillance of online activity.
- Release the court's opinions on use of surveillance. This is the lowest level of reform. It would demand that the administration (through the Department of Justice) release the legal opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that indicate how the surveillance is legal under the laws.
- Reform the bills or their amendments. The next level of reform is to ask that the bills be changed to prevent the sort of mass data collection that has been in progress by the NSA.
- Repeal of the bills or their amendments. The most extreme option would be to repeal the bills as they exist, presumably removing the legal authority for the agency to conduct its surveillance.
So how do both chambers of Congress break down? Overall, not well.