“They who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

This is the Benjamin Franklin quote Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico *(all Democrats) used to show why the National Security Agency needs to immediately end its “dragnet” surveillance programs.

The three published an op/ed in the New York Times today admonishing the U.S. Senate for continuing to give these NSA spy programs a “stamp of approval.” Since June, the NSA’s surveillance activities have proven a surprise to both U.S. citizens and, it seems, their representatives in the government.

The three senators note that programs such as PRISM, a data collection program between the NSA and a number of tech giants; relationships with telecommunications carriers to sweep up call data; and the tapping of fiberoptic cables to collect even more Internet data were done in secret through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Thus, “for years, American citizens did not have the knowledge needed to challenge the infringement of their privacy rights.”

The senators go on to say that the programs do not provide any proven value. NSA chief Keith Alexander spoke at security conference Black Hat this year to say just the opposite. He announced that 54 terrorist attacks around the world have been stopped through these programs. Thirteen of them were in the United States.

But “the NSA has not provided evidence of any instance when the agency used this program to review phone records that could not have been obtained using a regular court order or emergency authorization,” say the senators.

They go on to push their own bill and amendments, which have all been shot down by the Senate thus far. The bill, Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act, would stop overreaching data collection and would place more checks and balances into he FISC.

But for those who agree with Udall, Wyden, and Heinrich’s approach, there’s hope yet.  Alexander is said to be stepping down in spring 2014, and with that, those within the government expect to see major overhauls within the NSA. Indeed, President Barack Obama is said to be considering a civilian, as opposed to a military, lead to take the general’s position.

New laws will likely come about as a result of these leadership changes, and we believe these three senators will no doubt be involved.

Photos of Mark Udall, Martin Heinrich, Ron Wyden via Flickr


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