[QODLink]
Americas

Pressure mounts on US spy programme

Congressmen slam Prism as "off the tracks" and in serious violation of law as pressure mounts to change practices.

Last Modified: 18 Jul 2013 01:05
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback

United States politicians have blasted the nation's intelligence agencies for trampling on privacy rights and vowed to impose limits on the government's authority to scoop up Americans' phone records.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing, members from both parties berated senior officials over the collection of bulk phone data as beyond the limits of  the US Constitution as well as legislation adopted by Congress.

"I think that very clearly, this programme has gone off the tracks legally,"  said Representative Zoe Lofgren of California.

The hearing focused on the government's far-reaching surveillance activities that have come under intense scrutiny after Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting phone "meta-data" of conversations between foreign nationals and American citizens through a programme known as "Prism".

"With these programmes and other intelligence activities, we are constantly seeking to achieve the right balance between the protection of national security and the protection of privacy and civil liberties," Deputy Attorney General James Cole told the committee.

'Serious violation' of law

House representatives, however, said Congress had amended the post-9/11 Patriot Act to ensure phone or other business records would only be collected on a narrow basis, when government agencies had a specific suspect or threat in mind.

"We amended the Patriot Act to avoid this very same problem," said John Conyers, the senior-ranking Democrat on the committee, who called the data collection a "serious violation" of the law.

"This is unsustainable, it's outrageous and must be stopped immediately," Conyers said.

Senior justice and intelligence officials insisted the data mining of phone records was reviewed by a secret court, in line with laws adopted by  Congress and only conducted to track down al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

"With these programmes and other intelligence activities, we are constantly seeking to achieve the right balance between the protection of national security and the protection of privacy and civil liberties," Deputy Attorney General James Cole told the committee.

Administration officials told the committee that the phone data allowed spy agencies and the FBI to track down an associate of Najibullah Zazi, who admitted to plotting to bomb the New York City subway.

Court ruling

The pressure came a day after a US court ruled the government must release elements of a 2008 court decision justifying Prism.

The ruling could offer a rare glimpse into how the government legally justified such data collection programmes under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The government is expected to decide by August 26 which parts of the 2008 opinion may be published, according to a separate court filing by the Justice Department.

433

Source:
Agencies
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
The author argues that in the new economy, it's people, not skills or majors, that have lost value.
Colleagues of detained Al Jazeera journalists press demands for their release, 100 days after their arrest in Egypt.
Mehdi Hasan discusses online freedoms and the potential of the web with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
A tight race seems likely as 814 million voters elect leaders in world's largest democracy next week.
Featured
Deadly attacks on anti-mining activists in the Philippines part of a global trend, according to new report.
Activists say 'Honor Diaries' documentary exploits gender-based violence to further an anti-Islamic agenda.
As Syria's civil war escalates along the Turkish border, many in Turkey are questioning the country's involvement.
Treatment for autism in the region has progressed, but lack of awareness and support services remains a challenge.
The past isn't far away for a people exiled from Crimea by Russia and the decades it took to get home.
join our mailing list