Tester seeks surveillance answers from government’s top spy

Senator join bipartisan group pushing for stronger civil liberties, collection limits

(BIG SANDY, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester, one of the nation’s leading defenders of Americans’ civil liberties, is demanding fresh answers from the government’s top spy about the scope of the federal government’s surveillance programs. Montana Senator Max Baucus also joined the call.

In the wake of news about the extent and scope of the federal government’s efforts to spy on Americans, Tester, Baucus, and 24 other senators want Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to justify the collection of Americans’ phone and personal information under the Patriot Act.

“We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law,” Tester and Baucus wrote. “This prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly.”

The Senators want Clapper to reveal how long the National Security Agency used the Patriot Act to obtain large amounts of Americans’ records and whether the agency used the law to collect other types of information.

Tester, who has voted to repeal the Patriot Act multiple times, says the surveillance programs authorized under the law could be used for bulk collection of records beyond basic phone data. He also says the government may be able to expand its collection of business records to private financial, medical, and consumer records.

Tester, who originally ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006 in part due to his opposition to the Patriot Act, immediately slammed the federal government after news earlier this month revealed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court secretly granted the National Security Agency access to Americans’ phone and internet records without their knowledge.

In the wake of the revelations, Tester also called on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which investigates national security measures to make sure they do not violate the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans, to begin investigating the government programs.

Board members recently met with President Obama and are reviewing the government’s surveillance programs.

Tester’s bipartisan letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper by les_braswell5524