By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
The public needs to be informed about the U.S. government’s secret surveillance programs so an open debate can be carried out on whether it’s effective and what the concerns for civil liberties might be, a bipartisan group of 26 U.S. senators say.
The group, led by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, sent a letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper asking for information regarding how the Patriot Act was interpreted to allow for the bulk collection of data on the communications of ordinary Americans with no connection to wrong-doing, according to a news release from Wyden.
The senators also are seeking examples of how the program is effective, if it is.
Wyden has been front and center in criticizing the National Security Administration since former NSA employee Edward Snowden leaked to the media that the U.S. government has been conducting mass surveillance programs.
From the news release:
The senators expressed their concern that the program itself has a significant impact on the privacy of law-abiding Americans and that the PATRIOT Act could be used for the bulk collection of records beyond phone metadata. The PATRIOT Act’s “business records” authority can be used to give the government access to private financial, medical, consumer and firearm sales records, among others.
While saying the senators are concerned because the public is not about to adequately debate the secretive program, they are seeking answers to specific questions.
They want public answers to these questions:
- How long has the NSA used PATRIOT Act authorities to engage in bulk collection of Americans’ records? Was this collection underway when the law was reauthorized in 2006?
- Has the NSA used USA PATRIOT Act authorities to conduct bulk collection of any other types of records pertaining to Americans, beyond phone records?
- Has the NSA collected or made any plans to collect Americans’ cell-site location data in bulk?
- Have there been any violations of the court orders permitting this bulk collection, or of the rules governing access to these records? If so, please describe these violations.
- Please identify any specific examples of instances in which intelligence gained by reviewing phone records obtained through Section 215 bulk collection proved useful in thwarting a particular terrorist plot.
- Please provide specific examples of instances in which useful intelligence was gained by reviewing phone records that could not have been obtained without the bulk collection authority, if such examples exist.
- Please describe the employment status of all persons with conceivable access to this data, including IT professionals, and detail whether they are federal employees, civilian or military, or contractors.
The letter also states that misleading statements by intelligence officials “prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly. The debate that the President has now welcomed is an important first step toward restoring that trust.”
Download the full letter and see a list of senators involved here.
Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org
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