Old-man winter spared the nation's capital the crippling blow it dealt to the Northeast last week, which turned out to be a very good thing for NSA critics. That meant that the House Judiciary Committee's hearing on surveillance reform went on as planned, and it was a doozy for Obama administration witness, Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner told Cole point blank that if the White House doesn't endorse his USA FREEDOM Act, which would end the government's bulk collection of Americans' business records, then the Judiciary Committee would ensure that the government's dragnet surveillance powers would expire next year. "You will get nothing," he told Cole. Even Chairman Bob Goodlatte warned Cole that the president needs to weigh in on USA FREEDOM Act, because members of Congress are "chomping at the bit to move forward."
The news on immigration reform, however, was distressing. Speaker of the House John Boehner said immigration reform seemed unlikely to pass this year, punting on a major policy goal very early in the year because of conservative opposition to allowing aspiring Americans to become full citizens.
Immigration and surveillance issues will once again be on Congress's schedule this week, along with other critical civil liberties issues. Without further ado, here's what the ACLU's dogged lobbyists are working on and watching this week.
Tuesday, February 11th
Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, will participate in a panel discussion with other criminal justice leaders during a symposium entitled "A Conversation on Justice: A Call to Action for the Nation." Attorney General Eric Holder will be the keynote speaker before the panel, which is co-sponsored by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Right and the Vera Institute for Justice.
The Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled "Asylum Fraud: Abusing America's Compassion?"
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on worldwide threats to national security, where Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will testify.
Wednesday, February 12th
The Senate Rules and Administration Committee will hold a hearing titled, "Bipartisan Support for Improving U.S. Elections: An Overview from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration."
Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), will host an event to discuss the findings of a committee investigation into the obstacles faced by parents whose children were secluded or restrained in public schools. He will also introduce his Keeping All Students Safe Act, which aims to ensure effective implementation of positive behavioral interventions in our nation's schools.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled "The Report of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) on Reforms to the Section 215 Telephone Records Program and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court." All five PCLOB members will testify.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is expected to release its final cybersecurity framework, which will include recommendations on how companies that participate in the voluntary framework can implement effective policies to protect privacy.