The recent revelations into dragnet surveillance techniques by government agencies has been overshadowed by speculation on what non-extradition country Snowden will travel to, or what his personal life entailed before he leaked documents that show government abuse of the Fourth Amendment. The discussion needs to be shifted back to what he exposed - widespread data collection on domestic and foreign citizens - and what we are going to do about it.
A bipartisan group of senators has requested that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper respond pointedly to a series of questions meant to clear up vague responses to an earlier interview in March. Those question are:
1. How long has the NSA used PATRIOT Act authorities to engage in bulk collection of Americans' records? Was this collection underway when the law was reauthorized in 2006?
2. Has the NSA used USA PATRIOT Act authorities to conduct bulk collection of any other types of records pertaining to Americans, beyond phone records?
3. Has the NSA collected or made any plans to collect Americans' cell-site location data in bulk?
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Please describe the employment status of all people with conceivable access to this data, including IT professionals, and details as to whether they are federal employees, civilian or military or contractors.
Straight answers to these questions are important to see the scope and severity of surveillance that seems to bypass the Fourth Amendment and could be abused in further ways.
Let us not make this a partisan issue; we can all embrace this cause. No matter what the letter next to your senator or representative's name, let him/her know that you feel these questions need to be answered.