Ruling shows need for NSA limits, Udall says

A declassified court opinion underscores the need to rein in domestic surveillance programs, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said Wednesday.

The opinion by Judge Clair Eagan of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court held that the National Security Agency could collect phone records “to determine those connections between known and unknown international terrorist operatives as part of authorized investigations.”

The ruling “means that this cornerstone provision of surveillance law essentially contains no limits at all on the government’s authority,” Udall and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement. The senators, both members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have highlighted overreaches of counterterrorism officials since the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“In particular, this opinion highlights the problems we have with the court’s overbroad interpretation of the ‘relevance’ standard,” Udall and Wyden said in a joint statement, as they have done on several occasions.

Udall has said the public would be surprised at the extent of domestic surveillance, but that he and Wyden were constrained by law from discussing it specifically.

Eagan relied on a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision as the basis for the interpretation of the privacy rights of Americans.

That ruling, however, “was based on the limited technology of the rotary-phone era,” Udall and Wyden’s statement said. “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.”

Domestic surveillance authority should be narrowed, Udall and Wyden said, adding that the “low standard” used by the FISA court underscores why Congress must return to its proper role of defending our constitutional rights.”

Udall and Wyden have previously called for reconsideration of the Patriot Act.

“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,” the senators said in the statement. “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.”


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