U.S. Senators: 'No evidence' that NSA metadata collection is useful

U.S. Senators: 'No evidence' that NSA metadata collection is useful

Summary: U.S. Senators who first disclosed a "secret interpretation" of the Patriot Act in 2011 file new paperwork with the FISA Court disputing the NSA's bulk metadata collection program.

The secret interpretation of the FISA/Patriot Act law, used by the U.S. government to justify mass data collection on Americans and foreigners (Image: EFF)

Three skeptical senators aren't buying the U.S. National Security Agency's claims that the bulk metadata program helps prevent terrorism. 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), along with Martin Heinrich (D-NM) have filed a new amicus brief filed on Tuesday claiming that they have "seen no evidence" that the NSA's efforts to acquire vast amounts of global user metadata could not have been acquired through "less intrusive means."

Wyden and Udall, who have an intimate knowledge of the U.S. government surveillance machine by sitting on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, said in the brief that they have, "reviewed this surveillance extensively and have seen no evidence that the bulk collection of Americans' phone records has provided any intelligence of value that could not have been gathered through less intrusive means."

It backs up claims in the case, First Unitarian Church vs. NSA, which challenges the U.S.' collection of phone call and Internet communication information, under claims it violates the First and Fourth Amendments to free speech and protection from unwarranted searches respectively, and the Fifth Amendment of protection against self-incrimination.

Wyden and Udall, who were at the forefront of the U.S. government surveillance disclosures before the Edward Snowden leaks, first disclosed there was a secret Justice Dept. interpretation of the Patriot Act that went above and beyond Congress' original intention.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued, and subsequently obtained a heavily redacted opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In the brief, the two Intelligence Committee members said while being party to the information, they "sought to warn the public about those activities as best they could without disclosing classified information."

The brief's bottom line is that the NSA's ability to vacuum up vast amounts of American and foreign call and Internet metadata is unconstitutional. The senators also claim that while the White House continues to argue the program helps prevent terrorism, they dispute such proclamations.

Wyden, Udall, and Heinrich write, "...but the government continues to claim — without demonstrated evidence — that the bulk phone-records program is uniquely important for U.S. national security."

"As [we] and others have made clear, the evidence shows that the executive branch's claims about the effectiveness of the bulk phone-records program have been vastly overstated and, in some cases, utterly misleading," they added.

Topics: Security, Government US

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  • This is one of the few times

    that I actually stand with the ACLU. F*** the NSA.
    Jacob VanWagoner
  • All it does is give "guilt by association"


    Nothing of valid evidence.
  • I'm not convinced...

    ...that the professional opinions of government lawyers should be classified higher than "confidential", and maybe that should only apply to advice given on specific cases together with the White House Counsel's advice to the President himself. Given the dubious secret interpretations that have surfaced under the last two administrations, I think a good case could be made that official interpretations of federal laws made by DOJ lawyers for the general guidance of federal employees should be public record (with advice related to specific cases remaining confidential).
    John L. Ries
    • DOJ Lawyers

      Yup. These are the same lawyers that decided "enhanced interrogations" were legal.
      • I figure...

        ...that John Yoo and the other Bush Administration lawyers who formulated the doctrine that "justified" those practices should have been required to defend in court anyone sued for following their advice.

        I figure it's the easiest way to keep government lawyers honest.
        John L. Ries
        • No, the rules under Bush

          were quite more restrictive, and the author of the Patriot Act said that what Obama is doing is NOT in the law and indeed were prohibited.
          Tony Burzio
          • I was commenting on "enhanced interrogation"...

            ...hence the reference to Mr. Yoo. But it's clear that Rep. Sensenbrenner doesn't think the Obama Administration has been following the law he wrote.
            John L. Ries
  • No useful data?

    A number of terrorist plots have been discovered by the program. The Senators are wrong about the no useful data. However, having said that I don't care. The minor increase in security is not worth the loss of privacy. We do not need this operation enough to give up our privacy.
    • The NSA thinks they've been helpful

      And these three Senators who sit on the Intelligence Committee and therefore have the appropriate clearances disagree.

      Your post does, however, bring out one of the big questions, which is "is it worth it?". My current thinking is "no".
      John L. Ries
    • Terrorist Plots???

      Name one terrorist plot that was foiled, and document it.
      • Can't

        It's a secret.
  • On security

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin, 1775
    • Another one...

      "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I
      will find something in them which will hang him." - Cardinal Richelieu
  • There is only one reason that brought forth the NSA data collection

    and the data mining that supposedly "discovers potential terrorism" and that also, supposedly helps, to "deter terrorism".

    The U.S. is spending many billions of dollars on that data collection, unnecessarily.

    The U.S. is not allowed to "profile" for certain ethnic groups from the middle-east. Training for terrorism, and the actual terror attacks, emanate from the middle-east, and from a certain religion, namely, Muslims.

    Israel is forced, by necessity, to profile for those groups, and if they didn't, Israel would've ceased to exist a long time ago, because terrorism would have force all Israelis and Jews out of the country, and the country would have become some entirely different country by now.

    So, in order to catch the would-be terrorists, we have to do things the hard way, and the much more expensive way. Thus, trying to catch terrorism via the flow of data through communications is our response. Being politically and diplomatically correct, has put the U.S. in a very precarious position in regards to preventing terrorism. We'd rather spend hundreds of billions of dollars trying to prevent terrorism the hard way, than to do what most people do naturally when they travel by plane, as an example.

    But, hey, whatever makes people feel good, according to our politicians and public relations pros. Thus, the cowardly way we're going about our fight against terrorism, makes things a lot more complicated, and a lot more expensive; not to mention making 300 million people angry at our government for the NSA spying on our everyday communications.
    • There is a difference...

      In the United States, what the NSA is doing is SPECIFICALLY prohibited.
      Tony Burzio
      • You're missing the point...

        Most who understand the law and are aware of the constitution and our bill of rights, already know that what the NSA is doing, is, for the most part, illegal.

        However, "illegal" hasn't stopped Obama and his administration from passing regulations and executive orders, which are violations of laws on the books. Problem is that, our congress is lacking courage to contest the regulations and edicts that keep emanating from the administration.

        What the NSA is doing is, in a way, "codified" via acceptance by the people in congress and in the courts, and specifically, the FISA courts. There hasn't been anybody that wants to officially challenge what the NSA is doing, and it's the same with other power-grabbing being done at some other agencies. like the EPA.

        However, my point was about why the NSA spying operations on the American people occurred in the first place. If congress and the courts had the balls to pass and enforce laws that would allow "profiling" of certain Muslim groups and certain Muslim countries, we likely wouldn't have such a massive and expensive NSA operation. We are being "reactive" to terrorism activity, instead of being proactive, all for the purpose of not offending the Muslims who would like to destroy us.
    • Personally...

      ...I'm rather glad my grandfather and his children weren't interned during WWII for being of German descent and having a German surname.

      Ethnic and religious profiling can and have been abused.
      John L. Ries
  • The Three Tools

    Just how much garbage are we supposed to take from this machine? If the UK has one spy camera for every 14 citizens, how many terabytes does the NSA have for each American?

    Ahhh, s---!