Senators criticize NSA snooping as unnecessary to US security

Lawmakers say the NSA could have used less-intrusive methods to gather data.

Declan McCullagh/CNET

Three US senators with access to confidential NSA information don't see the agency's data-gathering methods as necessary to ensure US security.

On Tuesday, Senators Mark Udall (D-Colorado), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), and Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) filed an amicus brief on behalf of a lawsuit filed by several organizations that claims the National Security Agency's bulk records collection violated their constitutional rights. In the legal brief, the three senators expressed the opinion that the information gathered through the NSA could have been obtained through less-intrusive ways.

"In recent years the balance between protecting our liberties and ensuring our security has become fundamentally broken," Udall said in a statement. "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 US has other "authorities" available through which it can access the phone records of suspected terrorists or people in contact with them, the senators said in the brief. Those other authorities could have been used to gather the same information that the government otherwise obtained for a few counterterrorism cases, they added.

The senators also expressed concerns that the government's interpretation of Section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) could be extended to obtain other data on US citizens, including financial and medical records.

"Because the government's call-records program needlessly intrudes upon the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Americans, [the senators] believe the bulk collection of these phone records should be ended," the brief said.

The opinion of the three senators runs counter to the NSA's claim that its data-gathering methods are justified as the only way to protect the nation from terrorist attacks. Congressional members have been speaking out increasingly against the government's bulk records collection as a violation of US citizens' privacy.

Along with Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticutt) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Wyden and Udall have introduced a bill known as the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act that would amend certain sections of FISA to prohibit the bulk collection of Americans' phone records.

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