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House Probes Legal Basis of NSA Surveillance Program

Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that everyone he has spoken with in the Justice Department is “comfortable with the legal basis” of the program.

by
Rodrigo Sermeño

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February 14, 2014 - 12:17 am
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WASHINGTON – A House panel grilled a top government official about the legality of the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program and warned that the Obama administration could lose its surveillance powers if major changes are not made.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee examined recommendations to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and one of the NSA’s spy programs after revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year brought them to the public’s attention.

Members of the committee focused on the most controversial of the spy programs, the bulk collection of telephone records.

President Obama announced in January that he supports putting an end to the bulk metadata program authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The provision allows the government to collect and store telephone bulk metadata – including numbers people dial, call times and lengths of almost every U.S. phone call – without warning those whose information is being collected. The government does not collect information about the content of people’s phone calls.

The president, however, said the capability that this program provides is important and must be preserved.

“I am disappointed that the president was unable or unwilling to clearly articulate to Congress and the American people the value of this information in thwarting terror plots,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Obama called for a “mechanism” that would allow the government to continue to collect this data and not store it. Specifically, he called for shifting metadata storage from the government to the telephone companies or a third party.

Goodlatte welcomed the president’s focus on where the data is stored, but said there are larger concerns.

“Transferring storage to private companies could raise more privacy concerns than it solves,” he said. “We need look no further than last month’s Target breach or last week’s Yahoo breach to know that private information held by private companies is susceptible to cyber attacks.”

Obama also asked Attorney General Eric Holder to work with national intelligence chief James R. Clapper to develop additional options for a “new approach for the program.”

Peter Swire, who served on the president’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, said leaks were a concern whether the government or the private sector stored the data.

“The National Security Agency itself has had leaks and lack of complete security for documents, so we’re not comparing perfect with perfect,” Swire said.

Despite the diverging opinion of some lawmakers on the panel, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that everyone he has spoken with in the Justice Department is “comfortable with the legal basis” of the program.

Cole noted that despite one district court ruling, other courts have upheld the legal basis of the program.

“It is important to remember that the courts – the final arbiters of the law – have repeatedly found the program lawful, including 15 separate judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and two district courts,” Cole said. “There has been only one contrary district court ruling, which is now on appeal.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) asked Cole whether lawmakers’ numbers are included in the agency’s phone-records sweeps.

Swire said he was not aware of any way that these records are “scrubbed out” of the database, but did not respond, protesting he was not a government official and could not answer the question.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
"Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that everyone he has spoken with in the Justice Department is “comfortable with the legal basis” of the program."

Well, duh, since the so called justice department is packed with Obama mentality clones and ideologues. There is some law requiring balance in ideological flavor of lawyers hired at justice but, surprise surprise, Eric Holder and cronies haven't particularly honored that.

"Clapper announced on Thursday that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had approved two limits on how the government can use the data it collects about Americans’ phone use."

So now James ("clueless") Clapper is an authority, but he lied in direct testimony to Congress last year as to the nature of NSA data collection..."Not to my knowledge".

Given what we've seen the past few years, does anybody actually trust that any response out of all these people is anything but parsing and dissembling ?

We continue to play pinochle, when we need mean and fast hardball.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that everyone he has spoken with in the Justice Department is “comfortable with the legal basis” of the program."
"“We’re not allowed to look at any of those [numbers], however, unless we make a reasonable articulable suspicion finding that that number is associated with a terrorist organization,” Cole added.
What part of "comfortable with the legal basis" or "reasonable articulable suspicion finding" do you find disturbing?
Like the uber-ambitious and power-hungry Obama said, "I can do anything I want."
Collection of data is what the Stasi does; it's going into the biggest database anybody's every seen or heard of; just ask senator Sheila Jackson Lee.
We're being played again.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Founding Fathers, having written such, did have a pretty good idea of what the Bill of Rights meant and I believe that to a man they would find the NSA to not only be violating the Bill of Rights, but to be at war with the Bill of Rights. They would consider the NSA to be even more tyrannical and odious than King George and it's spokemouths to be far more dishonest than those of King George.

Either the NSA dies or America's Bill of Rights dies.

"In the end, there can be only one".
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (8)
All Comments   (8)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
my co-worker's mom makes $89 hourly on the computer . She has been fired for ten months but last month her income was $16979 just working on the computer for a few hours. blog here,,,,,,,,,,, http://www.Work72.com
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Does the government really believe all it's citizens are mind staggeringly stupid? (Better yet, don't answer that.)
"In investigating myself, I find no wrongdoing."
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that everyone he has spoken with in the Justice Department is “comfortable with the legal basis” of the program."

Well, duh, since the so called justice department is packed with Obama mentality clones and ideologues. There is some law requiring balance in ideological flavor of lawyers hired at justice but, surprise surprise, Eric Holder and cronies haven't particularly honored that.

"Clapper announced on Thursday that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had approved two limits on how the government can use the data it collects about Americans’ phone use."

So now James ("clueless") Clapper is an authority, but he lied in direct testimony to Congress last year as to the nature of NSA data collection..."Not to my knowledge".

Given what we've seen the past few years, does anybody actually trust that any response out of all these people is anything but parsing and dissembling ?

We continue to play pinochle, when we need mean and fast hardball.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The government does not collect information about the content of people’s phone calls."

You got this wrong. You forgot to add the qualifiers. The proper statement is: The government is not legally allowed to collect information about the content of people's phone calls without a specific warrant.

There is a world of difference between what you stated and the reality.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
the c/s/f (short for communist/socialist/fascists) are using an old propaganda trick here, as usual. it involves the insertion of one word into a sentence to completely change the meaning. such as, 'yes dear, your butt doesn't not look big in that dress'. notice how today the weird one said he 'was not directly told about the bad h.c. website'? inserting the word 'directly' into the sentence enables the sentence to mean about anything. in this case he could mean it as 'no one was standing directly in from of me (or just telling it (only) to me directly) when I found out', or 'nobody actually has my signature on anything directly saying I knew...' and so forth.

if you don't think spying on citizens pays off big politically you weren't really paying attention when conservative chief justice roberts helped rewrite obamacare and then voted the tiebreaking vote to force a (very poor)product on the American people. those same people he swore to protect.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that everyone he has spoken with in the Justice Department is “comfortable with the legal basis” of the program."
"“We’re not allowed to look at any of those [numbers], however, unless we make a reasonable articulable suspicion finding that that number is associated with a terrorist organization,” Cole added.
What part of "comfortable with the legal basis" or "reasonable articulable suspicion finding" do you find disturbing?
Like the uber-ambitious and power-hungry Obama said, "I can do anything I want."
Collection of data is what the Stasi does; it's going into the biggest database anybody's every seen or heard of; just ask senator Sheila Jackson Lee.
We're being played again.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Currently, the NSA is allowed to look at numbers that are three steps away from the target."

As if that's not bad enough, but yes, you have their word on it, no matter what, period.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Founding Fathers, having written such, did have a pretty good idea of what the Bill of Rights meant and I believe that to a man they would find the NSA to not only be violating the Bill of Rights, but to be at war with the Bill of Rights. They would consider the NSA to be even more tyrannical and odious than King George and it's spokemouths to be far more dishonest than those of King George.

Either the NSA dies or America's Bill of Rights dies.

"In the end, there can be only one".
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
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