Domestic spying: Lawmakers say NSA is violating the rules for collection and handling of bulk telephone data

Leaked information on NSA surveillance is only the tip of the iceberg. Domestic intelligence gathering operations are much more pervasive than most Americans realize, several U.S. senators say.
Leaked information on NSA surveillance is only the tip of the iceberg. Domestic intelligence gathering operations are much more pervasive than most Americans realize, several U.S. senators say.

Surveillance laws and practices need major overhaul to protect privacy and civil liberties

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — U.S. spy chief James Clapper fell short of showing how the NSA’s intrusive data collection program has any unique value to the country’s intelligence efforts, a pair of U.S. senators said this week.

In a statement released after receiving a response from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to a June 27, 2013 letter sent along with 24 fellow  lawmakers, Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Clapper’s response didn’t provide enough information.

“This response is appreciated, but the intelligence community still has left many of the questions most important to the American people unanswered. Given the implications for the privacy of the millions of law-abiding Americans, intelligence leaders were specifically asked to demonstrate the unique value of the bulk phone records collection program. They did not,” the senators wrote.

“Instead, they persist in citing two cases where the government could have obtained a court order or emergency authorization for the information it needed. The bottom line is we still have yet to see concrete evidence that the dragnet collection of phone records provides any unique value,” Udall and Wyden said.

In his letter, Clapper said the telephone data collection is “subject to significant safeguards within and outside the Executive Branch.”

“Data acquired under this program may be used only to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities,” Clapper wrote.

Wyden and Udall weren’t satisfied with Clapper’s response to queries about cell phone location data, and continued to insist that the NSA has violated rules governing the data collection program.

“It’s also deeply troubling that while the NSA claims no current plans to turn Americans’ cell phones into tracking devices, it clearly claims the authority to do so,” they wrote.

“This response leaves our question of past plans unanswered. Their violations of the rules for handling and accessing bulk phone information are more troubling than have been acknowledged and the American people deserve to know more details. And we are amazed that intelligence leaders deny that the PATRIOT Act has been ‘secretly reinterpreted’ when it is obvious that most Americans and many members of Congress had no idea that this law could be used for bulk collection of millions of law-abiding Americans’ personal records.

“In addition, the intelligence community’s response fails to indicate when the PATRIOT Act was first used for bulk collection, or whether this collection was underway when the law was renewed in 2006. We believe that law enforcement and intelligence agencies should have the tools needed to protect the American people, but the collection of bulk phone records needlessly invades the privacy of law-abiding Americans without visibly enhancing their safety.

“The responses of the intelligence community demonstrate once again how important it is to reform our surveillance laws and practices at this unique moment in our constitutional history,” Wyden and Udall concluded.

The response can be found by clicking here.


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