National Security Agency monitoring has received significant backlash from major technology companies—most recently over reports the agency is snooping around in the virtual world of online video games.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today explored the tension between the tech industry and the intelligence community’s effort to leave surveillance programs intact.
Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) revealed the support of the tech industry for the USA FREEDOM Act, legislation he introduced that aims to reform the NSA’s spying abilities--specifically, the bulk collection of metadata.
“The American people have been told that all of their phone records are relevant to counterterrorism investigations. Now they are told that all Internet metadata is also relevant, and apparently fair game for the NSA to collect,” Leahy said. “This legal interpretation is extraordinary ... and will have serious privacy and business implications in the future.”
NSA Director Keith Alexander and James Cole, the second-in-command at the U.S. Department of Justice, today defended the surveillance programs as necessary tools.
Cole, who has testified previously on surveillance issues, reinforced that the metadata does not contain names, addresses or financial information and only a small group can access the information.
Alexander, who’s also been a mainstay on Capitol Hill for surveillance hearings, said “taking these programs off the table, from my perspective, is absolutely not the thing to do.”
Leahy focused on a cost-benefit analysis—what the NSA gets out of bulk collection of metadata compared to the harm.
“We can do a huge amount but at some point we have to ask what we get out of it,” Leahy said. He asked Alexander during one exchange: “Just because you can do something, does it always make sense to do it?”
Alexander answered that he does not know a better method of protecting the American people than collecting the metadata. Cole said finding the balance between national security and individual liberties is tough, “but that is our job.”
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