A Department of Justice official told Congress on Tuesday that there “may be one” instance of a criminal case filed by federal investigators using information from the NSA’s phone record collection program.
The statement from Deputy Attorney General James Cole came in response to a question asked by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas).
“One criminal case?” Poe said. “[The NSA program] is an invasion of personal privacy, and it’s justified on the idea that we’re going to capture these terrorists. The evidence that you’ve told is all this collection has resulted in one bad guy having criminal charges filed on him.”
However, Cole stood behind the program, saying that it was aimed at large investigations.
“The point of the statute is not to do criminal investigations,” Cole said, according to PC World. “The point of the statute is to do foreign intelligence investigations.”
Cole also said that the NSA probably collects records pertaining to congressional office phone numbers.
“Mr. Cole, do you collect 202-225 and four digits afterwards?” asked Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), RT reports.
“We probably do, Mr. Congressman,” Cole said. “But we’re not allowed to look at any of those, however, unless we have reasonable, articulable suspicion that those numbers are related to a known terrorist threat.”
Others in Congress said they had been misled by the Obama administration’s descriptions of NSA programs.
“We feel that we have been blatantly deceived on what some of these programs have done,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).
Former Justice Department official Steven Bradbury defended the collection of phone records against attempts to pass NSA reform legislation.
Some reform legislation “would expose the nation to vulnerability by substantially weakening or even destroying outright the effectiveness” of the bulk phone records collection program, according to Bradbury.
Bradbury also said that a proposal to add a civil liberties lawyer in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would slow down the approval of collections and “would, I fear, prove dangerously unworkable in the event of the next catastrophic attack on the United States,” according to PC World.
David Cole, a Georgetown University Law School professor of constitutional law, said that Congress should pass the NSA reform bill called the “USA Freedom Act,” which has been sponsored by members of the Judiciary Committee.
The bill would only allow the Justice Department and NSA to collect U.S. phone records when they are connected to a suspected terrorist. The NSA recently indiscriminately collected all U.S. phone records held by Verizon.
Cole said the legislation is just reinforcing the way that Congress was sold the Patriot Act by the Bush administration.
“I don’t think a single member of Congress thought, ‘what we mean by that is there are no limits on the business records that you can get,’” he said.
Dean Garfield, the president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, slammed NSA surveillance as detrimental to U.S. businesses.
“Made in the USA is no longer a badge of honor, but a basis for questioning the integrity and the independence of U.S.-made technology,” he said. “Many countries are using the NSA’s disclosures as a basis for accelerating their policies around forced localization and protectionism.”
Just how much the U.S. tech industry could be hurt by the disclosures of the NSA programs remains to be seen.
What is quite clear, though, is that many in Congress are getting fed up with the Obama administration’s approach to the issue.
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