The National Security Administration may be continuing to obtain a wealth of information about American citizens but that doesn't mean that all members of Congress are happy about it.
"I do not perceive that government has the right to go after this information," Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-5) said of the data that the NSA has been acquiring under the guise of tracking terrorist activities. "Clearly that is completely outside of what was articulated in Section 215 of the Patriot Act. It provides no authority for casting such a wide drag net."
Thompson sat down with the Times Observer on Thursday before heading out to the Warren County Fair to celebrate, in his words, Pennsylvania's two most significant industries tourism and agriculture. He discussed a wide array of issues, among them the revelations of NSA surveillance detailed by former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, who has since obtained temporary asylum in Russia.
Thompson said that he "proudly voted for (an) amendment that essentially would call to stop the NSA's function within that. I know we've been successful stopping terrorist acts (but I) don't think much of that is coming from the metadata."
He explained that this issue is a "two-sided coin." When an intelligence agency has credible information and is tracking foreign terrorist organizations "I have no problem with that whatsoever. I think there's full authority under the Patriot Act for that information to be pursued. The other side of the coin is individual citizens. Just a few keystrokes can leverage that" into additional information.
"I call it government creep and it's wrong," he added. "Don't get me wrong, when they're following those foreign terrorists, (and if) my phone number comes up that I've been communicating with them... I have no problem with the government taking that information to a judge to get a warrant... to follow up on me. But that's the process to do it."
While the amendment that sought to stop such broad NSA surveillance failed, Thompson felt that with the vote, "I think we've served notice to the NSA... the whole intelligence business."
Thompson explained that part of the problem is "how much we've outsourced to private companies" regarding intelligence work.
Thompson said Snowden was hired by the CIA and "left there and went to a contractor" before fleeing to what he derisively referred to as "the bastion of civil liberties and freedom, China, Russia and Cuba."
"I think Snowden should be prosecuted ... I don't like traitors," he added.
Thompson also spoke on the historically low approval ratings that this Congress has received.
"If you break it down, approval ratings of individual members with the district... are pretty positive," he said. "It's the faceless Congress. People don't put that personal face on it. (That) makes it pretty easy to beat up on."
While he acknowledged that there may be more intensity to it currently, Thompson said, "I don't take that real personal. I think one of the players, perhaps, I think that falls on the media. I understand that conflict sells. I think that the 24/7 cable network news contributes to that greatly as well.
"If you look at the things we work on and accomplish, there's good stuff out there actually. (We've) always been a diverse nation and to some extent divided. I think that reflects the diversity of the nation."