Lawmakers' defense of the NSA's data-harvesting program continues with an interesting revelation from Rep. Mike Rogers:
Rogers (R-Mich.) says that the National Security Agency program tracking Verizon telephone records helped thwart “a significant case” of terrorism in the United States “within the last few years.”
“Within the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States. We know that. It’s important. It fills in a little seam that we have,” Rogers told reporters Thursday. ”And it’s used to make sure that there is not an international nexus to any terrorism event if there may be one ongoing. So in that regard, it is a very valuable thing,” Rogers said.
A few quick points on this. First, the court order that's caused today's controversy began in April. That was the blanket directive that forced Verizon to turn over data for all its customers. If the attack was prevented before that, has the government cast these sorts of wide nets before? Or was it done under a more narrow FISA order that civil libertarians wouldn't find as objectionable?
And that's a key difference. Except for the most hardened privacy advocates, most don't object to the fact that we have a FISA court, or that government can mine some phone records under certain circumstances. (Though it would be nice if the court wasn't so damn obsequious all the time.) The issue is that the order in question was so massive—every Verizon customer, all their records.
Also, Rogers said that the NSA program was used to fill in a "little seam." Does that mean that the attack couldn't have been stopped without the harvested data? Or that the harvested data was just one square in a mosaic of intelligence that thwarted terrorism?
I still think the Verizon court order was absurdly broad and a constituted a gross violation of our privacy. But it will be interesting to see what Rogers has here.
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