The Guardian reports: Senators on the intelligence committee expressed deep doubts about curbing the National Security Agency’s broad data collection powers as the upper legislative chamber begins to consider a landmark surveillance bill that passed the House last month.
Lawmakers attacked the USA Freedom Act as insufficiently protective of both privacy and national security as intelligence and law enforcement officials, who now back the bill, conceded that under its provisions they would still have access to a large amount of US phone and other data.
Deputy attorney general James Cole told the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday that the bill allows the NSA to collect information “two hops“, or degrees removed from a targeted phone account. “It gives us the prospective collection, it gives us a wider range of information that we wouldn’t have under normal authorities,” he said.
That account bothered three Democratic privacy advocates on the panel – Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Colorado’s Mark Udall and New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich – but most of the consternation shown by the panel came from the opposite direction, indicating that a surveillance bill whose privacy protections have been largely weakened will still face a difficult road in the Senate.
The panel’s leaders, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia – both of whom remain staunch advocates of the bulk domestic phone metadata collection that the bill is aimed at ending – feared that restricting the volume of data to which the NSA has access will leave the US vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
In some cases, the panel, charged with overseeing the intelligence agencies and preventing abuse, advocated greater authorities for the surveillance agency than the NSA itself requested. [Continue reading…]