The National Security Agency is breaking laws and misleading the public by collecting all Americans' phone records, and the White House should act to rein in the programs, two Democratic senators argued Tuesday night.
Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed the collection of phone records is not making the nation any safer, reports The Huffington Post.
Speaking on the Senate floor, they claimed the government has violated the Patriot Act by gathering phone records. A section of that law allows the government to collect phone records, while part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows the government to monitor foreign targets electronically.
Wyden claimed that a letter from NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander shows several violations of the Patriot Act.
"I'm not allowed to discuss the classified nature of that, but I want to make sure that those who are following this debate know that from my vantage point, reading those documents that are classified, these violations are more serious than have been stated by the intelligence community, and mind you, are very troubling," Wyden said.
Udall said that Alexander's claims that numerous terror plots were disrupted through the two programs
"The bulk phone-records collection program alone played little or no role in disrupting terrorism plots," Udall said. "I say this as someone who has been fully briefed on these terror-related events. Nor has it been demonstrated that this program even provides any uniquely valuable intelligence."
The two lawmakers have drafted legislation to reform the surveillance programs, and said all phone records should be taken from government control and put back in the hands of phone companies.
While NSA officials have said they have had to search the phone data records 300 times, Wyden and Udall said, the searches easily could have been handled without the government collecting private data.
Alexander said the NSA can search more quickly if it has the information.
"Convenience alone cannot justify the collection of the personal information of millions of innocent, ordinary, law-abiding Americans, especially when the same information can be obtained using less-intrusive methods," Udall said.
The senators have gotten little, but, Udall said, Americans are starting to demand action.
"It's just common sense that our law-enforcement agencies should have a reason to suspect a connection between the records they are seeking and a terrorism or espionage investigation before using these broad authorities," said Udall.
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