Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., who as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee helped write the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said the administration’s massive collection of phone records is an “abuse” of the law.
“How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation as required by the act?” he wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, also raised the possibility of administration officials lying to Congress in service of the program. He posted on his Twitter feed a video in which Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “specifically told me #NSA does not wittingly collect any type of data on millions of Americans.”
“No, sir … not wittingly,” Mr. Clapper told Mr. Wyden at the March hearing in response to a question worded near identically to the senator’s Thursday tweet, though he cautioned that NSA could “inadvertently collect” such data.
Already reeling from accusations of too much intrusion by the Justice Department, White House officials did not dispute that a court order signed by Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in April directs Verizon Communications to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis” to the NSA all call logs “between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
A former NSA employee, William Binney, said other phone companies’ records have been seized routinely by the agency. USA Today reported in 2006 that three phone companies — Verizon, Bell South and AT&T — had been turning over data on Americans’ domestic phone calls to NSA, though lawmakers told the newspaper then that the companies’ cooperation was only partial.
“NSA has been doing all this stuff all along and it’s been all the companies, not just one,” Mr. Binney said in a discussion hosted by the progressive nonprofit group Democracy Now!
Thomas Drake, another former NSA official, said the revelation shows that government secrecy has become “institutionalized.”
“This isn’t just a terrorist issue, this is simply the ability of the government in secret on a vast scale to collect any and all phone call records including domestic to domestic, local, as well as location information,” Mr. Drake said.
“There is no need to call this the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Let’s just call it the ‘surveillance court,’ it’s no longer about foreign intelligence. It’s simply about harvesting millions and millions and millions of phone call records and beyond,” he said.
“The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows them to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats,” the Guardian wrote, citing a top-secret Power Point presentation.
The slide show boasts of “collection directly from the servers” of companies such as Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Apple. YouTube and Skype. Several of the companies told multiple news outlets Thursday that they had no knowledge of the program and that any access to their servers was clandestine.