Senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, the chair and vice-chair of the Senate intelligence committee, defended the NSA’s collection of domestic phone records on Thursday, after it was revealed that the agency collected massive troves of customer data from Verizon.
“It is lawful,” Feinstein told reporters, adding that “there is no content involved.” The government collected only “metadata,” meaning the details of call length, location of each party involved, and details about the phones used. The actual spoken words or information exchanged were not recorded.
Chambliss also voiced support for the practice and alleging that the entire Senate was aware of its existence: “This has been going on for seven years under the auspices of the FISA authority, and every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this.” Chamlbiss was referring to the Foreign Intelligence Service Act, the law under which a government court approved the surveillance in late April, the BBC reported.
Still, not everyone joined Feinstein and Chambliss in support of the program. Senator Rand Paul attributed the practice to “Big Brother”:
Is 1984 Now? Big Brother is watching. RT if you agree: youtu.be/ALN7LTeLxtI
— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) June 6, 2013
Referencing the dystopian novel “1984” by George Orwell, Paul included a video that features a lengthy condemnation of the revelation, and of the Patriot Act in general. The Patriot Act, signed into law in October 2001 by President Bush and renewed by President Obama in 2011, allows for government wiretapping and surveillance of its citizens without a warrant in the name of preventing terrorism.
Sen. Paul may have found an unexpected ally in former Vice President Al Gore, who also condemned the news through a tweet Thursday morning:
In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous? ow.ly/lKS13
— Al Gore (@algore) June 6, 2013
For his part, Chambliss underlined the past and future benefits of such surveillance, insisting that over the years “we have gathered significant information on bad guys, but only on bad guys.”