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Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn defends surveillance programs

Coburn, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says the programs harvesting phone and Internet records are legal and necessary to protect against terrorism.
by Chris Casteel Published: June 12, 2013

“It is the equivalent of requiring every American to file a daily report with the government of every location they visited, every person they talked to on the phone, the time of each call and the length of every conversation. The program goes far beyond even the permissive limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy.”

Coburn said the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that information about phone calls made from one number to another — the kind of records that phone companies send to customers in billing statements — is not protected from scrutiny by law enforcement.

Intelligence agencies need that data to connect the dots and they need to get it en masse because the phone carriers destroy it after a certain amount of time, Coburn said. If the intelligence agencies want to pursue more specific information, he said, they have to get a warrant and show other information to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court about their suspicions, he said.

The programs have stopped numerous terrorist acts, Coburn said, and the exposure in the past week will allow terrorists to change the way they communicate to avoid detection.

“Here's the option: lots more successful attacks, not just here but around the world,” Coburn said.

Coburn acknowledged the legitimacy of fears that revelations last week about data collection may only be the tip of the iceberg and that government agencies may not always adhere to the law or the U.S. Constitution.

Still, he said, the surveillance systems used by the intelligence agencies require constant oversight by the FISA court.

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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