Senators ask security chief for proof with example data

Several senators from both parties said they are “troubled” by the way the Patriot Act might have been used to gather information about Americans’ private lives.

Under the business-records authority of the Patriot Act, the National Security Agency “can be used to collect information on credit-card purchases, pharmacy records, library records, firearms-sales records, financial information and a range of other sensitive subjects,” said the letter, which was signed by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. “And the bulk-collection authority could potentially be used to supersede bans on maintaining gun-owner databases or laws protecting the privacy of medical records, financial records and records of book and movie purchases.”

The kinds of bulk-data collection being pursued under the Patriot Act “could clearly have a significant impact on Americans’ privacy and liberties as well,” the letter said.

The 26 senators, who include Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked NSA Director James Clapper to provide specific examples in which the review of domestic communications data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act “proved useful in thwarting a particular terrorist plot.”

Udall and Wyden have previously questioned the Obama administration’s use of Section 702 of the Patriot Act as well as its interpretation of FISA.

Clapper also is to tell the senators why he believes the bulk collection of phone data has yielded unique information.

With an eye toward determining whether people like Edward Snowden, who has applied for asylum in Russia after releasing classified information he obtained as an NSA contractor, the senators also asked the agency to describe the employment status “of all persons with conceivable access to this data, whether they are federal employees, civilian or military, or contractors.”

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