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Lawmakers mostly support surveillance programs

Lawmakers mostly support surveillance programs

The strongest criticism of President Barack Obama normally comes from the U.S. Congress, but reports the government engaged in sweeping surveillance of Americans’ phone and Internet activity left even many of his critics uncharacteristically supportive.

A few lawmakers called for probes or closed-door hearings after the reports surfaced this week and a small group introduced a bill seeking to “stop the National Security Agency from spying on citizens of the United States.”

“Our investment in protecting American lives and liberties simultaneously is not a blank check,” said Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who called for a “thorough vetting of this policy” on Friday.

But support for strong security measures is one of few issues that crosses Washington’s usually rigid party lines. With reactions among Republicans and Democrats mixed, there is little chance of change from Capitol Hill.

Obama staunchly defended the programs on Friday, saying they helped keep the country safe from terrorist attacks. The president noted, several times, that Congress is “fully briefed” on the data tracking activity.

The disclosure left lawmakers scrambling for a response, with Republicans as well as Obama’s fellow Democrats echoing his assertion that the country has to strike a delicate balance between privacy and security concerns.

“The question is always the balance between protecting the American people, and protecting our freedoms. And so I always think we have to review that, but there’s no question that these programs have saved lives,” U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said on Friday.

Senator Marco Rubio expressed similar concerns. “Programs like this have great utility, and on the other hand, the American people want to feel confident that their government isn’t watching them,” the Florida Republican told reporters on Thursday evening after a briefing by intelligence agencies.

The briefing reassured Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, who called it helpful in a statement Friday.

A debate over privacy rights was stoked this week by a report in the Guardian newspaper on Thursday that the National Security Agency has been mining phone records from millions of customers of a subsidiary of Verizon Communications.