Senators demand answers from Director of National Intelligence on NSA’s bulk data collection programs
A bipartisan group of 26 Senators are demanding answers from Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper on the duration, scope, and effectiveness of the government’s bulk data collection programs leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“The bulk collection and aggregation of Americans’ phone records has a significant impact on Americans’ privacy,” according to the letter sent to Clapper on June 28th. “These records can reveal personal relationships, family medical issues, political and religious affiliations, and a variety of other private personal information. This is particularly true if these records are collected in a manner that includes cell phone locational data, effectively turning Americans’ cell phones into tracking devices.”
The Senators pointed out that the government’s bulk collection programs could be applied to business records authorized to be seized under the PATRIOT Act, such as “credit card purchases, pharmacy records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information, and a range of other sensitive subjects.”
The bulk data collections, the Senators suggested, were authorized based on “secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute.”
The letter also expressed concerns over Clapper’s and other senior administration officials’ “misleading” statements denying that the NSA “[doesn't] hold data on US citizens”.
In an interview with NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell on June 8th, Clapper admitted that he responded in the “least most truthful manner” to Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) question on whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundred of of millions of Americans”.
At the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on March 12th, Clapper told Wyden that the NSA does not “wittingly” collect data on Americans. “There are cases where they could inadvertently collect but not wittingly,” Clapper testified.
However, following Snowden’s disclosure about the NSA’s PRISM and BLARNEY surveillance programs, the NSA was forced to acknowledge that it collects and queries “metadata” of all calls in the United States, thereby contradicting Clapper’s sworn testimony.
The Senators’ letter pointed out that denials from Clapper and other intelligence community officials has “prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making”.
The letter posed seven specific questions on the NSA’s use of the PATRIOT Act authorities to collect communications data:
- “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 was signed by: Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Dean Heller (R- Nev.),Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
- Office of the Director of National Intelligence: Transcript of Director James R. Clapper’s interview with Andrea Mitchell on June 8, 2013
- C-Span.org: Video of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on March 12, 2013
- Wyden.Senate.gov: Bipartisan Group of 26 Senators Seek Answers from DNI Clapper on Bulk Data Collection Program
- Wyden.Senate.gov: Letter to DNI Jim Clapper – June 28, 2013 (PDF)
Category: Analysis, Congress, Corruption, Current Events, Feature, Government, Intelligence Community, Technology, Transcripts, U.S. · Tags: Al Franken, Andrea Mitchell, Bernie Sanders, BLARNEY, Brian Schatz, Chris Coons, citizenship, Congress, data mining, Dean Heller, Dick Durbin, Director of National Intelligence, Edward Snowden, Elizabeth Warren, Jeanne Shaheen, Jeff Merkley, Jim Clapper, Jon Tester, leak, Lisa Murkowski, Maria Cantwell, Mark Begich, Mark Kirk, Mark Udall, Martin Heinrich, Max Baucus, Mazie Hirono, metadata, Mike Lee, National Intelligence, national security, National Security Agency, NBC News, NSA, Patrick Leahy, Patriot Act, Patriot Act Section 215, Patty Murray, President Barack Obama, PRISM, privacy, Richard Blumenthal, Ron Wyden, Senate Intelligence Committee, surveillance, Tammy Baldwin, terrorism, Tom Harkin, Tom Udall, U.S., United States, US Senate, whistleblower