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Kuster Calls for Curbs on NSA

Tony Lubold, Seven Barrel's brewer, explains the brewing process to Rep. Annie Kuster during her tour of the brewery in West Lebanon on Wednesday, November 6, 2013.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Tony Lubold, Seven Barrel's brewer, explains the brewing process to Rep. Annie Kuster during her tour of the brewery in West Lebanon on Wednesday, November 6, 2013. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

West Lebanon — The National Security Agency crossed a line when it secretly tapped into data centers operated by Google and Yahoo, and the government program needs to be reined in, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster said Wednesday.

“It just went way beyond what most people’s expectations for privacy are in this country, and I think, despite people’s best efforts to protect privacy, things had developed to a place where the American people now want to have a debate and have a conversation,” Kuster, D-N.H., said outside the Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon, where she was promoting an economic development bill aimed at helping small brewers.

“It’s a balancing act between privacy and safety and security of our country,” she said. “But my point of view is we don’t want to lose our liberty in the course of trying to protect our safety.”

Kuster has called on President Obama to lead “rigorous, top-to-bottom review” of the NSA, and this week, she swung her support behind a bill to overhaul the intelligence agency and curb its “worst excesses.”

The so-called USA Freedom Act, which has bipartisan support and is being co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., would end the bulk collection of Americans’ communications records, require the government to more aggressively filter and discard information accidentally collected by the NSA, and create a special office to promote privacy interests before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, among other changes.

Kuster opposed a previous effort to defund the NSA after its surveillance activities were revealed in documents leaked by contractor-turned-fugitive Edward Snowden. The legislation, which the House rejected in July, was rushed and “came up in a way that wasn’t particularly thoughtful,” Kuster said Wednesday. She believes this most recent legislation is the right approach and would hopefully be part of a larger debate about privacy in America.

“This isn’t an easy decision to figure out where’s the perfect balancing point, but I think it’s time for the American people to have a debate, a discussion,” Kuster said. “And that’s why I wanted to sign onto the bill so that we’ll have that discussion in Congress and let people weigh in. I’m very interested to hear from constituents about that issue.”

Snowden is living in Russia, which granted him temporary asylum after he fled the United States in June following his leaking confidential documents to The Guardian of London and other media outlets.

The White House has rejected Snowden’s plea for clemency and said he should return to the United States to face trial. Kuster didn’t offer a firm opinion on the matter, saying only that the decision over whether to grant clemency was “a challenge because the reality is what he did was unlawful.”

Still, the U.S. needs to find ways of encouraging whistleblowers to come forward without breaking the law, she said.

“I think what we need to do is learn from the experience and create a reliable process,” she said. “We will need to have whistleblowers come forward, because we’ll have adequate supervision and analysis of how these laws are working.”

Kuster was in Lebanon to promote a bill that would cut in half the federal excise tax on small brewers. The legislation could save tens of thousands of dollars for breweries and be a job creator for New Hampshire’s fast growing beer industry, she said.

The U.S. representative and Dartmouth College alumna spent most of her visit talking beer and economic development with Seven Barrel brewer Tony Lubold. But after her tour, Kuster offered a few thoughts on the troubled rollout of the new health insurance marketplace website, HealthCare.gov, that launched Oct. 1 as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Millions of Americans, including thousands of Granite Staters, have been frustrated by technical glitches that have prevented them from enrolling in a plan online. Federal officials responsible for the website have faced tough questions in Congress over the past few weeks and say that progress is being made daily to address the issues.

Kuster said she shared the frustrations of her constituents but encouraged them to be patient. Everyone needs to keep in mind the long-term goals for health reform, she said.

“Obviously the computer rollout was a fiasco and I think everyone in Washington knows that and they’re doing everything they can to fix it,” she said. “But my position on this is, I believe in increasing the number of Granite Staters that are covered by affordable insurance. That’s my goal. ... I’m quite confident that, given a reasonable time frame, that we’ll be able to sign up the people in New Hampshire that didn’t have insurance and now can go to a doctor, get insurance despite preexisting conditions, get insurance despite the age of their children or illness in their family. That’s an important goal and we’ve got to keep sight of it.”

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.