Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, head of the National Security Agency (NSA) Keith Alexander, and other senior officials scheduled a briefing on Thursday afternoon to inform senators on classified programs that secretly track and collect data on Americans’ telephone calls and Internet activity.
Only 47 of 100 senators showed up.
News about PRISM broke a week ago, sending shock waves through the government, American population, and the world. It turns out that the FBI and NSA have been secretly mining user data from thousands of telecommunications and Internet companies since 2007. While this program challenges the very core of our democracy, a majority of the Senate did not feel the need to linger at the office past 2:30 p.m. on a Thursday to learn more.
The Senate held its last vote of the week a little after noon on Thursday, and “many lawmakers were eager to take advantage of the short day and head back to their home states for Father’s Day weekend,” according to congressional newspaper The Hill.
Why protect your constituents’ privacy when you could be barbecuing?
The Hill reported that this exodus “exasperated” Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“It’s hard to get this story out. Even now, we have this big briefing — we’ve got Alexander, we’ve got the FBI, we’ve got the Justice Department, we have the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Court there, we have Clapper there — and people are leaving,” she said.
The White House has responded to criticism of PRISM by claiming that it is necessary to protect the U.S. population from terrorism. A study conducted by the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of Americans find the NSA’s secret tracking of our phone calls “acceptable,” and 62 percent think it is more important for the government to investigate threats even if it intrudes on privacy. So maybe the senators aren’t indifferent. Maybe they don’t value a three-and-a-half day weekend more than the Constitution but rather understand that their constituents are OK with secret intelligence programs remaining secret.
I certainly would have appreciated being privy to that briefing and knowing that my elected representative cared enough about my rights to attend. However, who attended and who didn’t has not been disclosed. Lucky for the Senators, they still have privacy. Unless they use the Internet, that is.
Oh well, our Constitutionally protected freedoms are going down the toilet. Enjoy your Father’s Day, everyone.