Critic: NSA Snooping Violates 'Soul of America'

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The Obama administration is secretly collecting the phone records of millions of Americans -- and it's been going on for years.
    
"It is sweeping, it is not what I would expect from the United States," Mark Rumold, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said.

In a secret program code-named PRISM, major Internet companies like Microsoft, Apple and Facebook are allowing the NSA and FBI to tap into their central servers to track people.

This latest revelation comes on the heels of a discovery by Britain's The Guardian newspaper that the NSA is collecting telephone records of millions of Verizon customers under a top secret court order.

The White House received some backing from two lawmakers from different parties. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., revealed that such surveillance has helped apprehend would-be terrorists, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., affirmed that congressional oversight guards against abuse.
 
"We want to protect people's private rights," she stated Thursday when addressing the press. "That's why this is carefully done." 

"We've got to examine ways to be able to get data that can prevent plots from hatching and Americans from being killed," she said.

While the administration insists the data gathering is covered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the order does not allow the government to listen in on the content of the calls.

"The information that they're really looking for is on the other end of the call. It's 'are they in contact with folks, or is somebody in contact with somebody that we know to be a known terrorist,'" Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said.

Critics argue it's still a huge overreach of government power.

"The idea, you know, they are collecting metadata, which means they probably know where I am all the time and that bothers me," Verizon customer Erin Young said.

The spying operation was limited in scope during George W. Bush's administration. But the program back then drew outrage from then Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

"No more illegal wiretapping of American citizens," Obama said at the time. "No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime."

Not only is the spying continuing under President Obama's watch, it has greatly expanded, according to The Guardian.

But that's not what Congress was told when National Intelligence Director James Clapper testified three months ago.

"Does the NSA collect any type of data on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Clapper during the hearing.

"No sir," Clapper replied.

Now Clapper is denouncing the leak that revealed what the government is really up to. He warned that America's security will suffer.

Still, the NSA phone records collection has reportedly thwarted a significant terrorist attack.

"I can tell you to that end within the last few years there was a domestic case that was thwarted because of their ability to do this," Rep. Rogers said.

That only adds fuel to the ongoing debate over how to balance right to privacy and safety in America.

"I'm a Verizon customer," Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said. "It doesn't bother me one bit for the National Security Administration to have my phone number."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., however, viewed the matter differently.

"I think it violates the Constitution of the United States and the heart and soul of America as a free country," Sanders charged.

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