Most Americans think Congress should allow the NSA to continue collecting massive amounts of American citizen’s phone data, according to a new CNN poll.
Sixty-one percent of those polled said Congress should renew the Patriot Act, which the NSA uses to justify the bulk phone record collection program. The law expired Sunday night, and is likely to be replaced by the USA Freedom Act, which would end the bulk collection program and require the NSA to get permission to obtain the records from phone companies.
Asked whether the expiration of the Patriot Act will increase or decrease the risk of a terrorist attack, a little over half those polled said the risk would stay “about the same.” Forty-four percent said the risk would increase.
The NSA used section 215 of the Patriot Act to justify collecting and storing metadata from phone companies on a rolling basis. The metadata includes phone numbers and the time, date and location of the call, but does not include the contents of the call. The NSA has to get permission to run a specific number against the database, in order to track and locate terrorists or suspected terrorists.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who is running for president, ticked off a lot of his Republican colleagues by filibustering the Patriot Act and refusing to consent to a short-term extension of the bill that would have allowed the Senate more time to debate the bill before it expired.
He railed against the bulk collection program as a violation of the 4th Amendment, and bragged about the criticism, claiming he’s on the side of most Americans. (RELATED: Rand Vows To Force Patriot Act To Expire)
Republican Sen. Dan Coats called Paul’s characterization of the program “a blatant misrepresentation,” and noted the bind that the need for secrecy puts on the NSA’s ability to defend itself.
“When descriptions of policies that are implemented in terms of providing for intelligence-gathering and necessary response to prevent terrorist attacks, that information is classified,” he said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “And so when we see that the program is being misrepresented and described as something that it isn’t, we [members of the Intelligence Committee] don’t have the ability to respond.”
“Everything that is being said and done is listened to by the terrorist groups, and they will make behavioral changes — they will make changes in terms of how they communicate,” he added. “So the program is being compromised by the very fact that we’ve had to come on the floor and publicly address it and release information as to what it is, to help assure the American people that, in fact, what has been said about the program is simply false.”
If Congress passes the USA Freedom Act, which is likely, the NSA would have to rely on the phone companies to keep the data, and get permission to access that data on a case by case basis. The House passed the Freedom Act overwhelmingly, and the Senate is set to vote on it Tuesday.
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