Congressman Tim Griffin (AR-02): Federal Government Abusing Patriot Act by Tracking Calls, Surveilling Innocent Citizens’ Internet Activity

Congressman Tim Griffin (AR-02) issued the following statement in light of reports regarding the federal government surveilling American citizens and collecting their personal information:

“I agree with my former colleague on the House Judiciary Committee who helped author the Patriot Act, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05): tracking the phone calls of millions of innocent citizens is ‘excessive and un-American.’ I’m also extremely troubled by reports of the NSA’s PRISM and the federal government surveilling Americans’ Internet activity on a massive scale. I don’t care who’s in the White House—Barack Obama, George Bush or George Washington—abusing the Patriot Act is a serious overreach, and Americans’ constitutional rights must be protected. The fact that PRISM training materials dismiss this systematic invasion of privacy as ‘nothing to worry about’ is absurd, and the 51 percent threshold for targeting is unsettling and borderline indefensible. If reports about PRISM are accurate, Americans are now viewed as potential terrorists until data and the facts suggest otherwise.”

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

On June 5, The Guardian reported: “The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April. The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an ‘ongoing, daily basis’ to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries. The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”

On June 6, Sensenbrenner sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to explain the FBI’s use of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, writing: “I do not believe the released FISA [court] order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act.  How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation as required by the Act?”

Later on June 6, The Washington Post reported: “The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document….The court-approved program is focused on foreign communications traffic, which often flows through U.S. servers even when sent from one overseas location to another. Between 2004 and 2007, Bush administration lawyers persuaded federal FISA judges to issue surveillance orders in a fundamentally new form. Until then the government had to show probable cause that a particular ‘target’ and ‘facility’ were both connected to terrorism or espionage. In four new orders, which remain classified, the court defined massive data sets as ‘facilities’ and agreed to certify periodically that the government had reasonable procedures in place to minimize collection of ‘U.S. persons’ data without a warrant…. It is all the more striking because the NSA, whose lawful mission is foreign intelligence, is reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil….[PRISM’s] history, in which President Obama presided over exponential growth in a program that candidate Obama criticized, shows how fundamentally surveillance law and practice have shifted away from individual suspicion in favor of systematic, mass collection techniques….From inside a company’s data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes, but under current rules the agency does not try to collect it all. Analysts who use the system from a Web portal at Fort Meade, Md., key in ‘selectors,’ or search terms, that are designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s ‘foreignness.’ That is not a very stringent test. Training materials obtained by The Post instruct new analysts to make quarterly reports of any accidental collection of U.S. content, but add that ‘it’s nothing to worry about.’ Even when the system works just as advertised, with no American singled out for targeting, the NSA routinely collects a great deal of American content.”

On June 7, Forbes reported on statements made to Congress in 2012 by NSA Director Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that appear to contradict The Washington Post and The Guardian.