Murkowski Challenges Director of National Intelligence on Surveillance

Senator Joins Bipartisan Coalition Seeking Answers on Privacy Rights, Proof of Effectiveness

WASHINGTON, DC — With law-abiding Alaskans and Americans facing the prospect of secret federal government surveillance programs collecting their phone logs and Internet records in ‘bulk collections,’ Senator Lisa Murkowski today peppered the Director of National Intelligence with questions in a letter she co-signed with 25 other Senators.  Recent disclosures of the FBI/NSA programs have led Murkowski to reassert – as she has for a decade – her grave concern over the government’s secret interpretations of the PATRIOT ACT and whether they are focused enough on the balance between civil liberties and national security.

In a letter sent today to DNI James Clapper (attached), the Senators ask him to publicly provide information about the duration and scope of the program – as well as give concrete examples of how this program is effective in preventing threats on America.

“We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law,” the senators wrote in the letter. This and misleading statements by Intelligence officials have “prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly. The debate that the President has now welcomed is an important first step toward restoring that trust.”

The senators are seeking public answers to the following questions:

  • Has the NSA used USA PATRIOT Act authorities to conduct bulk collection of any other types of records pertaining to Americans, beyond phone records?
  • Has the NSA collected or made any plans to collect Americans’ cell-site location data in bulk?
  • How long has the NSA used PATRIOT Act authorities to engage in bulk collection of Americans’ records?
  • Have there been any violations of the court orders permitting this bulk collection, or of the rules governing access to these records? If so, please describe these violations.
  • Please identify any specific examples of instances in which intelligence gained by reviewing phone records obtained through Section 215 bulk collection proved useful in thwarting a particular terrorist plot.
  • Please provide specific examples of instances in which useful intelligence was gained by reviewing phone records that could not have been obtained without the bulk collection authority, if such examples exist.
  • Please describe the employment status of all persons with conceivable access to this data, including IT professionals, and detail whether they are federal employees, civilian or military, or contractors.  

Underscoring the widespread concerns shared by so many Americans, the letter was co-signed by a geographically- and ideologically-diverse group of Senators, including Senators Begich, Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dean Heller (R-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).