November 19, 2013

Udall, Wyden, Heinrich Challenge Effectiveness of Dragnet Surveillance Program in NSA Court Case

Senators: NSA Program Doesn't Adequately Protect Privacy, Warn Against Excessive, Overbroad Government Powers

WASHINGTON- U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today challenged the effectiveness of the National Security Agency's bulk phone records collection program. The senators' amicus curiae brief, filed in theFirst Unitarian Church vs. National Security Agency U.S. District Court case, questioned a central premise of the government's argument. The brief argues that after extensive review, the senators have seen no evidence the dragnet collection of Americans' private phone records has provided any intelligence of value that could not have been gathered through less intrusive means.

The senators also pushed back on the government's overbroad interpretation of certain surveillance laws, warning the court that such an expansive reading of the law could potentially support even more intrusive surveillance practices, such as collection of financial or medical records, or even records revealing the location of ordinary Americans.

"Our number one priority must be to keep Americans safe while keeping faith with the values that make this country great. Yet in recent years the balance between protecting our liberties and ensuring our security has become fundamentally broken," Udall said. "The dragnet collection of millions of innocent Americans' private phone records is a clear threat to our constitutional rights, yet we have seen no evidence that this exceedingly intrusive monitoring has provided any uniquely valuable intelligence. The courts should exercise their power and call out the government's position."

"As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee we have a responsibility to conduct vigorous oversight and ensure that there is adequate openness and accountability regarding intelligence policies.  After spending many years reviewing the bulk phone records collection program I have yet to see any examples of it providing real intelligence value that could not be have been gained by more constitutionally sound means," Wyden said.  "I believe it was important for us to file an amicus brief in this case to ensure that the court is aware of our understanding of the facts as it considers the important constitutional questions raised by this case."  

"Collecting the daily telephone activity of millions of innocent Americans is a major intrusion to our privacy rights that does little if anything to further the fight against terrorism," Heinrich said. "As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I am more familiar than most with this program, and know what is and isn't true about this program. To the extent I can do so without violating my national security obligations, I will do what I can to keep the government honest about what it tells others, including our courts, about this program."

The senators filed their amicus brief with the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Northern California. The case involves a suit filed on behalf of 22 organizations that claim that the government's ongoing bulk phone records collection program has violated their constitutional rights to privacy, free speech and free association.

The senators' amicus brief can be read by clicking HERE.