After the Guardian acquired a top secret court order mandating Verizon to give the National Security Agency phone records of millions of U.S. citizens, two senior senators of the Intelligence Committee defended the court order, explaining its necessity in protecting America.
Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) spoke strongly in defense of the government’s actions during an impromptu press conference in Washington, D.C.
“This is just meta data. There is no content involved. In other words, no content of a communication. … The records can only be accessed under heightened standards,” she explained. “It’s called protecting America.”
“I read intelligence carefully. And I know that people are trying to get to us,” Feinstein added. “This is the reason we keep TSA doing what it’s doing. This is the reason the FBI now has 10,000 people doing intelligence on counter-terrorism. This is the reason for the national counter-terrorism center that’s been set up in the time we’ve been active.”
With the court order, the NSA currently collects information on Verizon telephone calls on an “ongoing, daily basis.” The NSA can track telephone calls made in the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries using this information. The controversy surrounding the court order is the sheer magnitude of data the NSA is allowed to tap into and their ability to investigate telephone records regardless of if an individual is suspected of wrongdoing or not.
Vice chair of the Senate Intelligence committee Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) also supports the court order.
“This is nothing particularly new,” Chambliss explained. “This has been going on for seven years under the auspices of the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] authority, and every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this.”
Both senators recognize the importance of privacy rights and maintain that the court order protects those rights to its best ability, but that protecting the homeland is of the utmost importance.
“I think people want the homeland kept safe to the extent we can,” Feinstein said. “We understand — I understand privacy. Senator Chambliss understands privacy. We want to protect peoples’ private rights. And that’s why this is carefully done.”