January 10, 2014

Udall, Wyden, Heinrich Press White House to Make Common-Sense, Constitutional Reforms to NSA Surveillance, Protect Privacy

Senators Urge End to Domestic Phone Record Dragnet, Challenge Effectiveness of Program

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) — all members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — in a letter pressed the White House today to take swift action to rein in the National Security Agency's pervasive and constitutionally flawed domestic surveillance activities and to adopt reforms that protect privacy while ensuring American security. The senators urged the president in their letter to adopt many of the recommendations of his own surveillance review group. These proposals mirror many of the senators' own principles for reform.

In particular, the senators urged the president to end the dragnet collection of innocent Americans' private phone records and to close a loophole that allows for warrantless searches of the content of phone calls and emails of individual Americans caught in the course of collecting foreign communications. Udall, Wyden and Heinrich also pressed the president to create a constitutional advocate at the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

"Mr. President, we agree with your recent comment that ‘just because we can do something doesn't mean we necessarily should.' While it might be more convenient for the NSA to collect phone records in bulk rather than directing individual queries to the various phone companies, convenience alone does not justify the collection of the personal information of millions of ordinary, innocent Americans, especially when the same or more information can be obtained in a timely manner using less intrusive methods," the senators wrote. "We believe you have the authority to make many of these changes now, and we urge you to do so with reasonable haste to protect both our national security and the personal rights and liberties of U.S. citizens."

"While we have served on the Intelligence Committee for varying lengths of time, all three of us can attest that our nation's intelligence professionals are overwhelmingly dedicated and patriotic men and women who make real sacrifices to help keep our country safe and free," the senators continued. "We believe that they should be able to do their jobs secure in the knowledge that their agencies have the trust and confidence of the American people. This trust has been undermined by overly intrusive domestic surveillance programs and misleading statements made by senior officials over a period of many years. Your Review Group recognized that the way to rebuild this public trust is to reform surveillance law and end the dragnet surveillance of ordinary Americans in a way that preserves intelligence agencies' ability to collect information that is actually necessary for the preservation of American security."

Udall, Wyden and Heinrich have repeatedly pressed the president and the intelligence community on the effectiveness of the NSA's dragnet surveillance of law-abiding Americans. They filed a "friend of the court" brief in November 2013 in the First Unitarian Church vs. National Security Agency U.S. District Court case noting that they have seen no evidence the dragnet collection of Americans' private phone records has provided any intelligence that could not have been gathered through less intrusive means.