Senators Demand Answers of Clapper on NSA Domestic Surveillance

A bipartisan group of Senators sent a letter yesterday to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asking for answers about domestic surveillance programs.  

Of particular concern was “business records” provision of the PATRIOT Act being reinterpreted to “allow the government to collect the private records of large numbers of ordinary Americans.”  Describing the business records provision of the PATRIOT Act as “broad”, the letter reads:

 It can be used to collect information on credit card purchases, pharmacy records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information, and a range of other sensitive subjects. And the bulk collection authority could potentially be used to supersede bans on maintaining gun owner databases, or laws protecting the privacy of medical records, financial records, and records of book and movie purchases. These other types of bulk collection could clearly have a significant impact on Americans’ privacy and liberties as well.

The letter goes on pinpoint certain misleading statements about the PATRIOT Act that has evolved from an intuitive reading of the law to something else entirely. “Finally, we are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law.” 

The list of questions in the letter to Clapper are:

1. How long has the NSA used PATRIOT Act authorities to engage in bulk collection of Americans’ records? Was this collection underway when the law was reauthorized in 2006?

2. Has the NSA used USA PATRIOT Act authorities to conduct bulk collection of any other types of records pertaining to Americans, beyond phone records’?

3. Has the NSA collected or made any plans to collect Americans’ cell–site location data in bulk’?

4. Have there been any violations of the court orders permitting this bulk collection, or of the rules governing access to these records? If so, please describe these violations.

5. Please identify any specific examples of instances in which intelligence gained by reviewing phone records obtained through Section 215 bulk collection proved useful in thwarting a particular terrorist plot.

6. Please provide specific examples of instances in which useful intelligence was gained by reviewing phone records that could not have been obtained without the bulk collection authority, if such examples exist.

7. Please describe the employment status of all persons with conceivable access to this data, including IT professionals, and detail whether they are federal employees, civilian or military, or contractors.

The Senators who signed the letter are: (Republicans are in red)

Ron Wyden (Oregon), Mark Udall (Colorado), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Patrick Leahy (Vermont), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Dick Durbin (Illinois), Tom Udall (New Mexico), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Jon Tester (Montana), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Dean Heller (Nevada),Mark Begich (Alaska), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), Patty Murray (Washington), Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Al Franken (Minnesota), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Chris Coons (Delaware), Maria Cantwell (Washington), Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Max Baucus (Montana), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Martin Heinrich (New Mexico), Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin) and Mike Lee (Utah).

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