September 18, 2013

Udall, Wyden: Newly Declassified Court Opinions on Bulk Collection of Phone Data Underscore Need to Narrow Scope of NSA's Domestic Surveillance

Washington, D.C.U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who serve on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement after yesterday’s declassification of an opinion by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on the government's bulk collection of Americans' phone records:
“The declassification of the recent opinion by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court sheds more light on how surveillance laws and the Bill of Rights have been interpreted in secret and gives the American people the opportunity to decide for themselves where the limits to government surveillance authority should be placed. Throughout the debate over the proper limits and justifications of these surveillance powers, we have consistently said that the American people would be shocked if they knew how the law was being interpreted in secret court chambers. These court documents begin to show the extent of that interpretation, and the expansive surveillance authority that the FISA Court has been secretly granting to the government for years.
“In particular, this opinion highlights the problems we have with the Court’s overbroad interpretation of the ‘relevance’ standard. The Court decided to take an incredibly expansive approach to defining that term, and its ruling means that this cornerstone provision of surveillance law essentially contains no limits at all on the government’s authority.
“The document also points to the Supreme Court’s 1979 decision in Smith v. Maryland as the basis for this broad interpretation of the government’s surveillance powers.  But the Smith decision was based on the limited technology of the rotary phone era. In an age of personal cell phones and mobile IP addresses, it is unrealistic to say that collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk does not infringe on their privacy.
“As Judge Eagan clearly states, resolving the questions about the appropriate limits of the government’s surveillance authority is not one that is properly suited to the courts, but ‘is a matter for the political branches of government to decide.’
“We agree.  We have argued for years that the government’s domestic surveillance authorities need to be narrowed, and we will continue this fight in the weeks and months to come. These revelations about the low standard that the FISA Court has set for protecting Americans’ liberties underscore why Congress must return to its proper role of defending our constitutional rights.”