Keith Ellison on Prism: Congress knew "almost nothing" [VIDEO]

Ellison said Congress didn't know as much as Obama would have you believe.
Ellison said Congress didn't know as much as Obama would have you believe.

Yesterday, Keith Ellison took part in a panel discussion about the Obama administration's Prism surveillance program on George Stephanopoulos's This Week show. Joining him were George Will, Matthew Dowd, Paul Krugman, and Greta Van Susteren.

SEE ALSO: Al Franken defends Prism, says of leaks: "Nothing surprised me"

One question that has emerged following the leak of classified documents about Prism (read this Guardian report for background information) pertains to how much Congress actually knew about it. Obama has pointed out that Congress was repeatedly briefed about the program in closed sessions, but if comments Ellison made yesterday on ABC can be believed, those briefings didn't provide members with enough information for them to play an effective supervisory role.

The tone of yesterday's panel discussion was set by Krugman. While paraphrasing a passage from a paper published by Yale Law School, Krugman said, "Technology means that we are going to be living in a surveillance state. That's just gonna happen. But there are different kinds of surveillance states."

"You can have a democratic surveillance state which collects as little data as possible and tells you as much as possible about what it's doing, or you can have an authoritarian surveillance state which collects as much as possible and tells the public as little as possible. And we are kinda on the authoritarian side."

Stephanopoulos then asked Ellison how much Congress knew about the program. His response? "Almost nothing."

"I'm allowed to see certain things, and they tell us it's available if you make time at certain times and places to go see it, but the fact is, no, I'm not aware of the program that was revealed [this week]," Ellison said. "I had no notice. It's a fiction that everybody in Congress knew."

Later, Ellison weighed in on the topic of what should be done now that Prism's existence is public knowledge.

"I think we need to review the law. I think it casts too wide a net," Ellison said. "I think we ought to remember that the best way to protect the American public is to have active police work that follows up on leads that actually exist."

"Just figuring out what somebody's phone calls are in Peoria or Minneapolis for that matter, anybody who is not even connected, I don't think is worthwhile. And if it is, I think somebody needs to come and make a case as to why they need the information. I think we passed this law when we were very much afraid for a legitimate reason and it's time to come back and really introduce privacy into the conversation."

Ellison also said he doesn't think Congress has done a satisfactory job overseeing the program.

"I think we need to peel it back, and we need to make sure that we are considering the Constitution when we write these kinds of laws."

Here's video of the panel discussion in its entirety:

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]

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