NSA Admits Spying on Congressional Phone Habits

By:  Thomas R. Eddlem
01/06/2014
       
NSA Admits Spying on Congressional Phone Habits

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont wrote to the NSA asking if the agency collects the telephone records of members of Congress, and CNN received a response claiming that they do collect congressmen's phone records because “Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons.” In other words, congressmen have no privacy from the prying eyes of the NSA either.

Sanders wrote to NSA Director General Keith Alexander on January 3:

I am writing today to ask you one very simple question. Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials? “Spying” would include gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.

The NSA responded by asserting that they collect all of the information related to telephone calls of members of Congress just like they collect information on the telephone habits of every other American. “NSA's authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons,” the NSA told CNN on January 4.

The NSA statement above may sound like the NSA is protecting the privacy of Americans' phone habits, but the NSA and the Obama administration have admitted that the NSA collects information from all “telephone calls within, to, or from the United States,” according to a White House White Paper on the subject published in August. The White Paper also explained what kind of information was collected in its “telephony metadata” program: “Information responsive to an authorized query could include, among other things, telephone numbers that have been in contact with the terrorist-associated number used to query the data, plus the dates, times, and durations of the calls.” The White House White Paper stressed that no American has any expectation of privacy in any phone call made in America:

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