26 Senators Demand NSA Release Information About Its Spy Programs

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Early this month, it was revealed that the NSA collects mountains of phone and Internet data on American citizens. Some members of government defend the program, while others have been creating legislation to reign it in. Now a group of Senators are taking it a step further.

The Hill reports that 26 senators led by Sen. Ron Wyden have demanded in a letter that the NSA publicly reveal information about its spy programs. The senators argue that making this information public will lead to a better debate over the necessity of these programs:

“We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law. [Misleading statements] have 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.”

To help create a more transparent NSA, the senators are requesting the agency answer the following 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.
  • If the NSA is truthful (which is unlikely), we might get some solid answers for once. The senators pretty much covered every cause for concern that popped up when the surveillance programs were revealed.

    Personally, I'm interested in the second to last question. Every terrorist threat thus revealed could have been stopped with traditional investigation methods, and didn't require the collection of Americans' data. The NSA will likely spin it to sound like they are the only agency standing in the way between you and the terrorists though.

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