The author of the Patriot Act said Thursday that a secret program under which the Obama administration was collecting phone records from millions of Americans is “excessive” and beyond the scope of the law.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who wrote the 2001 law, was among a host of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who raised alarm over the practice.
The Guardian newspaper first reported the National Security Agency had been collecting records under a court order from millions of Verizon customers in the U.S. Defenders of the program tried to ease the furor by assuring the public this is “nothing new” – and in fact has been going on for seven years. But the acknowledgement that the program is long running only fueled the outrage from civil liberties groups and lawmakers who described it as a blatant overreach.
“This is a big deal, a really big deal,” Sensenbrenner told Fox News, adding that such a broad seizure was “never the intent” of the law. He floated the possibility of amending the Patriot Act before its 2015 expiration to stop this.
In a separate statement, he called the program “excessive and un-American.”
The Republican lawmaker also fired off a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder – who would not comment on the program when asked about it Thursday – explaining why he thinks the records collection goes astray of the law. He noted that the key section of the law that allows the government to obtain business records requires the information to be relevant to an authorized investigation.
“How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation?” he asked in the letter.
He said the order “could not have been drafted more broadly,” and said he does not think it’s “consistent” with the law’s requirements.
A handful of in-the-know lawmakers lined up to defend the program, while acknowledging the need to protect privacy.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House intelligence committee, said the effort is not “data mining,” and has helped quash a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the past few years. He would not elaborate.
The leaders of the Senate intelligence committee also defended the program, saying it is “nothing new.” Republican Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss said it’s been going on for seven years.
Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said these orders are actually renewed every three months through the court. She said the records are there for investigators to access if there is suspicion of terrorist activity.
“The threat from terrorism remains very real and these lawful intelligence activities must continue, with the careful oversight of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government,” Feinstein and Chambliss said in a joint statement.
Speaking later in the day, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said “everyone should just calm down.”
Administration officials, while not directly acknowledging the order, defended their authority to collect records and stressed they’re not listening in on conversations.
However, civil liberties groups and some lawmakers sounded the alarm over the collection effort.
“The National Security Agency’s seizure and surveillance of virtually all of Verizon’s phone customers is an astounding assault on the Constitution,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said.
One civil liberties group called this the “broadest surveillance order to ever have been issued.”
“It requires no level of suspicion and applies to all Verizon subscribers anywhere in the U.S.,” the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who has historically opposed the Patriot Act, said the effort “is not what democracy is about.”
The report in the Guardian newspaper follows revelations that the Justice Department was seizing the phone records of journalists, including at Fox News, in the course of leak probes.
The order, a copy of which apparently was obtained by The Guardian, reportedly was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19.
It requires Verizon, one of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies, on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.
The text of the order, as published by The Guardian, says that “the Custodian of Records shall produce to the National Security Agency (NSA) upon service of this Order, and continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this Order, unless otherwise ordered by the Court, an electronic copy of the” the records in question.
The newspaper claims the document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens were being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing.
The NSA and the FBI are mining the user data of nine major Internet companies, an expose by The Washington Post revealed Thursday evening.
The previously undisclosed program – called PRISM – allows intelligence analysts to directly tap the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.
The audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs of users are all available to be extracted and analyzed by intelligence analysts.
The names of the companies appear in the order of when they joined the “court-approved” program, which began in 2007. Dropbox is reportedly “coming soon.”
98 percent of PRISM’s product is derived from intelligence gathered from Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google.
“In exchange for immunity from lawsuits, companies such as Yahoo and AOL are obliged to accept a “directive” from the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to open their servers to the FBI’s Data Intercept Technology Unit, which handles liaison to U.S. companies from the NSA,” wrote The Washington Post.
“In 2008,” the newspaper continued, “Congress gave the Justice Department authority for a secret order from the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court to compel a reluctant company “to comply.”
The companies that responded to the Post’s requests for comment – including Google, Facebook and Apple – denied any participation in PRISM.
The government’s 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – dated April 2013 – and supporting materials describing the program were provided to The Washington Post by a career intelligence officer looking to expose a “gross intrusion of privacy.”
“They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said to The Washington Post.
Intelligence analysts are able to query the servers of the participating companies using “selectors” to determine with 51 percent confidence a target’s “foreignness.”
Information accidentally collected about innocent Americans by analysts is considered “incidental” and “nothing to worry about.”
PRISM is not a new thing for the government, despite the involvement of fairly modern technology.
“PRISM is an heir, in one sense, to a history of intelligence alliances with as many as 100 trusted U.S. companies since the 1970s,” wrote The Washington Post. These alliances are called Special Source Operations.
“PRISM was launched from the ashes of President George W. Bush’s secret program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, after news media disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced the president to look for new authority,” wrote The Washington Post.
A parallel program to PRISM described in The Washington Post expose called BLARNEY collects “metadata” – address packets, device signatures and the like – as it streams past choke points along the backbone of the Internet.”
This type of effort by the NSA was first exposed when former AT&T technician Mark Klein went public about his knowledge of a secret room at a San Franciscio AT&T facility that intercepted all Internet traffic.
The Washington Post expose comes directly on the heels of a separate report by The Guardian, which revealed late Tuesday evening that Verizon was being secretly ordered on an ongoing basis to hand over the phone data of all communications inside the U.S.
The phone data includes phone numbers, when the call was made and for how long the call took place.
Randy Milch, Verizon’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, would not confirm the accuracy of The Guardian’s report, but said that if such an order were issued to Verizon, the company would be “required to comply.”
California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein affirmed that the court order was a routine three month renewal of a secret program that has been ongoing since the previous administration.
The NSA and the FBI both declined The Daily Caller’s request for comment.
The journalist who took part in breaking two attention-grabbing stories on government surveillance charged that the United States is interested in destroying privacy all over the world.
“There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal,” Greenwald said on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live” on Thursday.
“And that is to destroy privacy and anonymity not just in the United States but around the world.”
Greenwald’s subsequent comments came just hours after The Guardian and The Washington Post both broke another bombshell report detailing a program dubbed as “PRISM.” According to the reports, the program involves the National Security Agency and FBI tapping into the servers of nine leading Internet companies to extract information.
Greenwald jump-started Thursday’s discussion over civil liberties and government surveillance with a report late Wednesday night that detailed the NSA’s collection of data from millions of Americans’ phone records.
“It’s well past time that we have a debate about whether that’s the kind of country and world in which we want to live,” Greenwald said on CNN. “We haven’t had that debate because it’s all done in secrecy and the Obama administration has been very aggressive about bullying and threatening anybody who thinks about exposing it or writing about it or even doing journalism about it. It’s well past time that that come to an end.”
The Obama administration and some members of Congress have defended the use of the programs. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said the NSA’s collection of phone data has been going on for seven years. Feinstein said it’s about “protecting America.”
“People like Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss can have press conferences threatening people for bringing light to what it is they’re doing, but the only people who are going to be investigated are them,” Greenwald said in response.
“It’s well past time that these threats start to be treated with the contempt that they deserve.”
Watch the clip below, via CNN:
You may want to sit down for this.
It appears that along with online information, the U.S. government has tracked credit card purchases and, in some cases, shared phone data with the U.K., according to The Wall Street Journal and The Daily Beast.
It was revealed earlier this week that the feds have been monitoring Verizon, Sprint Nextel, and AT&T customers and that the National Security Administration had established a massive program, code-named PRISM, that indicates the monitoring of Americans.
Now the Wall Street Journal’s sources claim NSA operations also encompass purchase information from credit-card providers.
“It couldn’t be determined if any of the Internet or credit-card arrangements are ongoing, as are the phone company efforts, or one-shot collection efforts,” the WSJ notes.
What is known at this time, however, is that the NSA has established with credit-card companies the same type of relationship it has established with tech companies. That is, the NSA asks for the data and they get it.
Also, according to The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, at least “one foreign government has gained access to sensitive data collected by the National Security Agency from U.S. telecommunications companies in dragnet court warrants demanding the secret transfer of U.S. customers’ calling records.”
The collected information, referred to as “metadata,” does not include conversation content or the names of people associated with accounts. It does, however, record when and where calls are made and for how long.
And in a few “discreet cases,” as Lake puts it, “the NSA has shared unedited analysis of these records with its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters.”
Furthermore, in 2010, GCHQ actually gained access to the NSA’s PRISM program, The Guardian reports.
“The documents showed the British generated 197 intelligence reports from access to the system in 2012,” Lake notes.
“With advances in computer science, intelligence services can now mine vast amounts of data collected by telecom companies, Internet service providers, and social-media sites for patterns that can illuminate terrorist networks and help solve crimes,” he adds, citing intelligence officers.
“These metadata … reside in vast hard drives that belong to the NSA. Analysts there can then take a phone number or email address and uncover suspected terrorists’ associates, find their locations, and even learn clues about their possible targets.”
A former senior U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast, “My understanding is if the British had a phone number, we might run the number through the database for them and provide them with the results.”
“I do not know of cases where the U.S. government has shared this kind of metadata with the United Kingdom, but I would be surprised if this never happened,” Peter Wood, the CEO of First Base Technologies, said in the same report. “Both countries cooperate very closely on counterterrorism.”
PRISM, the latest surveillance program leaked to the press, makes the collection of metadata from the three major phone companies seem quaintly old-fashioned. Its Big Brother implications are stunning from the standpoints of both technology and audacity.
I’ve written twice this week on how presidents routinely overstep the bounds when they are facing urgent security threats like war or al-Qaida, and how that should not be shocking, given the stakes. But PRISM, which reportedly allows the government to track people’s Internet activities as they occur, does come as a shock.
The metadata collected by the National Security Agency from Verizon and other phone companies is an aggregation of phone numbers and lengths of calls, and does not harvest the content of the calls. PRISM, first disclosed Thursday night by The Washington Post and The Guardian, is different. According to the intelligence official who leaked the information to The Post: “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.”
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, says PRISM is “important and entirely legal” and “cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.” Obama himself said Friday that he was skeptical about NSA surveillance programs when he took office, but he and his team concluded after assessing them that “they help us prevent terrorist attacks.”
Both the phone and Internet programs are “under very strict supervision” by all three branches of government, Obama said, and added that he has put in place new safeguards and audits. He called the encroachment on privacy modest. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” he said, or reading the email of U.S. citizens.
Still, the stew of threats, technology, and government authority seems like a scandal waiting to happen. The potential for invasion of privacy is as enormous as the scale of the program. PRISM reportedly involves nine giant Internet companies: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. Some are denying they participate.
PRISM dates from the George W. Bush administration and, according to Clapper, has been overseen by Congress and the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That means some insiders wouldn’t have been surprised by the revelations and may explain why former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer stood by it last night when I asked him about it. “I support it, just as I support detecting patterns that can lead us to terrorists,” he told me on Twitter.
The leaked information makes clear that the PRISM program is central to U.S. intelligence gathering. Clapper called the unauthorized disclosure of its existence “reprehensible” and said it “risks important protections for the security of Americans.”
In fact the twin leaks of PRISM and the phone data-collection program appear more serious and consequential than the leaks that led the Justice Department to investigate the Associated Press and Fox News’ James Rosen.
Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have all but admitted overzealousness in those two investigations, in which Rosen was labeled a coconspirator and so many AP phone records were subpoenaed that one member of Congress called it a constitutionally questionable dragnet. Obama and Holder have been trying to dial back and reassure the media that reporters won’t be prosecuted for doing their jobs.
Investigations of these latest leaks will be a stiff test of their restraint, and their ability to explain why PRISM in particular is not something that should worry people who use the Internet. In other words, almost everyone in America.
Flashback: Whistleblower Revealed NSA Scandal 14 Months Ago, MSM Refused To Report – Pundit Press
In April of 2012, whistleblower William Binney went on the program Democracy Now to reveal that the NSA was lying to the American people about their actions. Binney is a former intelligence agent.
He stated that the NSA had “20 trillion transactions” on record. Specifically, transactions are phone calls, emails, internet searches, and credit card purchases made by average citizens.
When asked if he believed that the United States government had every single email American citizens had sent, Binney stated that, “I believe they have most of them.”
When asked about the difference between the Obama and Bush administrations, Binney cautioned, “Actually, I think the surveillance has increased, in fact I would suggest that they’ve assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about US citizens with other US citizens. 20 trillion.”
“They can target anyone they want,” he warned.
Yet it was only this week that the Main Stream Media officially reported on the NSA’s activities, and that was after the story was broken by the Guardian.
You can watch the interview below:
Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley told Megyn Kelly he is “astonished” at President Obama’s dismissive attitude toward criticism of NSA monitoring.
After hearing a thorough defense of the NSA’s monitoring of Americans’ phone calls, Megyn Kelly discussed it with constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley, who took particular issue with Obama referring to the program as a “modest encroachment” on privacy. He called that statement “laughable,” saying Obama did not address the questions that civil libertarians like himself have been asking since the Bush administration.
“Telephone companies were demanding every single phone call made by every single citizen. It’s the type of surveillance that once was though futuristic, that wasn’t even technically possible, but it is now… I’m really astonished by the dismissive attitude of the president,” said Turley, calling it a “major violation of privacy.”
Check out the full interview above, including why Turley believes Obama is “unconnected from reality.”
Appearing on MSNBC’s Now with Alex Wagner, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said that he was never briefed on the National Security Agency’s sweeping PRISM program which databases electronic communications data. Merkley said that he had no idea about the program and he suspects that a small number of members of the congressional intelligence committees were the only individuals informed of the program.
Wagner recalled that the president said that he welcomes the debate over how much privacy Americans should expect to give up in order to ensure security. She asked Merkley if he thought it was even possible to have that debate.
“I think it is possible,” he replied. “Much more possible now that there is public examination.”
“When I sought information, the only information I got was related to that, ‘yes, there is a program sweeping up broad amounts of data through the Records Act,” Merkley continued.
“This second thing we’ve just learned about called PRISM, I had no idea about,” he said. “I don’t know how many people knew about it in Congress, but I suspect a very small number on the intelligence committees.”
Merkley noted that President Barack Obama‘s assertion that members of Congress were informed of these programs was not true in his case.
Watch the clip below via MSNBC:
Conservative radio host and best-selling author Mark Levin went on “Your World with Neil Cavuto” yesterday to discuss the recent revelations that the National Security Agency had been collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers.
Levin told Cavuot:
“We have the elements of a police state here.”
The Daily Caller reported:
He said that the NSA news in addition to other openings for intrusion by the federal government are the makings of a “police state.”
“I tell you what I make of this – we have the elements of a police state here, and I’m not overstating it,” Levin said. “When you step back and realize the Supreme Court the other day ruled 5-to-4 that law enforcement can take DNA from you even if you’re arrested – by the way, you’re arrested even when you’re stopped for a speeding ticket, and Scalia was right, concerned about a national database. That goes way over the line of our traditions.”
“The Department of Homeland Security now is checking laptops and iPhones and other data, making copies of it and keeping it, and now we have this,” he continued. “And some of my brothers and sisters in law enforcement, prosecutors, are saying, ‘Look, look, this is permitted. We need to be able to go through and match -’ wait a minute. You don’t throw a whole net on the entire country and everybody’s phone numbers and check the duration and see if you can come up with some overlaps. That’s not law enforcement. That’s not how national security works. I don’t care what the hell the Supreme Court said 30 years ago or what some judge said 15 minutes ago. This is America, and our government is collecting way too damn much data on we the private citizen.”
Read the rest here.
Flashback – March, 2013: National Intelligence Director James Clapper denies the NSA collects any type of data on millions of Americans.
And, of course, our glorious leader is right on top of the situation.