Senators Write Letter to NSA Director – Say Agency Needs to Correct Its Facts, Protect Privacy

By on June 26, 2013

by Ali Papademetriou

Last Friday, two Senators who sit in the Senate Intelligence Committee – Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Colorado Senator Mark Udall – made a public statement declaring that the intelligence community has exaggerated its usefulness.

Their argument was in response to NSA Director General Keith Alexander testifying alongside the Justice Department in a hearing by the House Intelligence Committee where he insisted that more than fifty terror plots have been intercepted due to the highly classified data collections.

In the 12 years since the attacks on Sept. 11, we have lived in relative safety and security as a nation. That security is a direct result of the intelligence community’s quiet efforts to better connect the dots and learn from the mistakes that permitted those attacks to occur on 9/11,” Alexander told the committee.

Wyden and Udall weren’t too pleased to hear that and made comments in their public statement such as, “In addition to the concerns that we have about the impact of large-scale collection on the civil liberties of ordinary Americans, we are also concerned that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702 collection program (Which allows collection of phone or internet communications, and involves the PRISM computer system) and the bulk phone records collection program operating under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT ACT are being conflated in a way that exaggerates the value and usefulness of the bulk of phone records collection program.”

They also said that according to what they’ve been exposed to, even though section 702 of FISA has blocked at least parts of a few terror plots, they say that the millions of phone records that the agency has collected under section 215 of the Patriot Act “played little or no role in most of these disruptions.”

Saying that “these programs” have disrupted “dozens of potential terrorist plots” is misleading if the bulk phone records collection program is actually providing little or no value,” they stated.

Now the two Senators are still fighting to defend Americans’ privacy and have written a formal letter to General Alexander dated June 24, 2013.

Referring to the fact sheet that the NSA recently released on surveillance authorities that collect information about both section 702 of FISA as well as 215 of the Patriot Act, they said, “We were disappointed to see that this fact sheet contains an inaccurate statement about how the section 702 authority has been interpreted by the US government.”

They went on to write, “In our judgment this inaccuracy is significant, as it portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are,” reiterating the inflated position the intelligence community portrays on its usefulness.

We urge you to correct this statement as soon as possible. As you have seen, when the NSA makes inaccurate statements about government surveillance and fails to correct the public record, it can decrease public confidence in the NSA’s openness and its commitment to protecting Americans’ constitutional rights. Rebuilding this confidence will require a willingness to correct misstatements and a willingness to make reforms where appropriate,” wrote the senators in their letter.

Udall and Wyden explained in their letter to Alexander that the statement in the fact sheet, which reads, “Any inadvertently acquired communication of or concerning a US person must be promptly destroyed if it is neither relevant to the authorized purpose nor evidence of a crime,” is misleading. They said that the statement suggests that the NSA has the ability to regulate how many American communications it has obtained under section 702, “or that the law does not allow the NSA to deliberately search for the records of particular Americans”.

Going into specificity, they detailed, “In fact, the intelligence community has told us repeatedly that it is “not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority” of the FISA Amendments Act.”

In response, the senators said they’re looking forward to hearing back from Alexander and reiterated that it is important for the government to intercept terrorist plots without impeding on Americans’ constitutional rights.

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