WASHINGTON — As the Senate continues to consider changes to the government’s intelligence programs, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke from the Senate floor this morning in opposition to any action that “substantially weakens a vital tool in our counterterrorism efforts at a time when the terrorist threat has never been higher.”
In her remarks, Senator Collins noted the critical importance and effectiveness of the NSA’s phone records program, as well as the long-standing lack of abuse of its authority, stating that “it is a false choice that we have to choose between our civil liberties and the protection of the United States.”
“I am truly perplexed that anyone would argue that telephone data is better protected in the hands of 1,400 telecom companies and 160 wireless carriers than in a secure NSA database that only 34 carefully vetted and trained federal employees are allowed to query under the supervision of a federal judge,” Senator Collins said in her remarks from the floor. “It's going to be less secure because instead of 34 people having access to just the phone numbers and call duration data, we're going to have potentially thousands of people who are going to be asked to query their database. The system is going to be less effective because there is absolutely no guarantee that this data will be retained by the telecom companies and the wireless carriers.”
Senator Collins underscored the effectiveness of the NSA’s counterterrorism tools, referencing “the direct warnings of former Director of the FBI Robert Mueller, and the Former Deputy Director of the CIA, Mike Morell, who tell us that had this program been in place prior to 9/11/01, it is likely that that the terrorist plot would have been uncovered and thwarted.”
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Senator Collins also highlighted that just last month, during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, she asked the U.S. Attorney General whether or not there have ever been any privacy violations regarding that telephone database. Attorney General Lynch replied no.