Rep. Buchanan: Phone Dragnet “Invasion of Privacy”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, today criticized the government’s secret seizure of phone records of millions of innocent Americans, saying the White House needs to explain and justify this sweeping invasion of privacy.  The USA TODAY newspaper called the government’s unprecedented and indiscriminate seizure an “outrageous” act that “betrays Americans.”  Over the past six years, the National Security Agency (NSA) has collected telephone records of hundreds of millions of Americans, using data provided by three phone companies – Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth.

Revelations about the NSA’s phone dragnet was followed by press reports that the government has also been extracting personal information from internet giants such as Google and Facebook.

“The American people don’t want the government snooping into their private lives,” said Buchanan. “They deserve answers as to why this amount of information was deemed vital to national security.”

Buchanan, a member of the congressional Privacy Caucus, said a proper balance must be struck between national security and civil liberties.  “Our strength as a nation flows from the values and freedoms laid out in the Constitution, including the right against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

On Wednesday, a leaked copy of a top-secret court order revealed that Verizon, one of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies, was being required by the NSA to hand over all telephone records in its systems.  The order was granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which was established in 1978 under the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, R-WI, the author of the 2001 Patriot Act which expanded the scope of surveillance under FISA denounced the government’s secret collection of phone calls saying “I do not believe the released FISA order is consistent with the requirement of the Patriot Act.  How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation?”

The Washington Post  reported on Thursday that the NSA has also been tapping directly into the servers of nine internet companies “extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.”  Several companies contacted by The Post said they did not permit direct government access to their servers.  The internet providers targeted included:  Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.

“It is a slippery slope if we allow our basic freedoms to be eroded in the name of security,” said Buchanan.  “I urge the President to explain to all Americans why these intrusive programs are necessary in combating threats of terrorism.

 Massive secret surveillance betrays Americans: Our view

The Editorial Board, 9:51 p.m. EDT June 6, 2013

Congress hands the government nearly unlimited power to collect people’s records.

By any measure, the government’s secret seizure of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records over the past seven years is outrageous. But it shouldn’t be the least bit surprising.

When a panicked Congress, driven by a panicked electorate, hands the government nearly unlimited power to collect people’s records — then makes sure the intrusion will be kept secret — overreach is guaranteed.

Now Americans are finally learning how much of their privacy was sacrificed in the rush to pass the poorly named USA Patriot Act after the 9/11 terror attacks.

First came a report late Wednesday in The(London) Guardian that the National Security Agency is tracking records of virtually all Verizon customers. Records at other carriers are presumably being seized as well.

Then on ThursdayThe Washington Post reported that the NSA and FBI are tapping into nine Internet companies to see everything from videos to e-mails, using selected search terms. That program at least is aimed at foreigners and is more selective, but it sweeps in U.S. users, too. And all in secret.

The companies, which might have been expected to protect the interests of their customers, were muzzled by the law, and members of Congress were muzzled by their oaths — though two, Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, admirably raised warnings in a letter last year that the public would be stunned if it knew what was going on.

Now it is, so the Obama administration and congressional leaders scrambled Thursday to defend their actions — weakly.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, “Everyone should just calm down and understand this isn’t anything that’s brand new.” So if the government abuses power long enough, it becomes OK?

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, proclaimed that he was unaware of “any citizen who has registered a complaint” about the program. Who knew to complain?

The administration said phone conversations had not been tapped, just metadata gathered and searched for patterns that would expose terrorists. So tracking every call in the United States is OK?

More helpfully, House Intelligence Committeee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the operation had prevented a major terrorist attack, though without detail.

No one disputes the threat, or that the records would be useful in deterring it, or even that the record gathering was done with good intentions. But to gather so many records so indiscriminately in such secrecy sounds more like the actions of China and Iran than the world’s leading protector of individual rights. To believe that such a program would never be abused, by law enforcement or by politicians, would be staggeringly naive. Tools get used.

Much needs to be done.

First, the program needs to be brought out of the dark. The White House said the “president welcomes discussion of the trade-offs between security and civil liberties.” Good. He should fully describe what’s going on.

Then, Congress needs to retool the law. Is collecting so much data necessary — or just convenient? Is the secret court that approves warrants for the data more than a rubber stamp? Are the data destroyed?

The list goes on.

Anyone, right or left, who cares about individual rights has reason to be appalled. Congress should demand answers and tighten the law.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.