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Lawmakers seek privacy protection after U.S. surveillance revealed

Lawmakers in both political parties called for swift action to protect civil liberties of U.S. citizens after disclosures about secret government programs that collect phone and internet data to help thwart terrorists.

Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado and a member of the Senate’s intelligence panel, said he’ll push to change the USA Patriot Act that allows roving wiretapping and other expanded government surveillance tools.

He said he wants to better ensure individual rights aren’t trampled in the process, particularly where phone records of U.S. citizens are involved.

“The scale of it is what concerns me, and the American public doesn’t know about it,” Udall said yesterday on CNN’s State of the Union.

Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky who is exploring a 2016 presidential bid, said he wants to see a class-action lawsuit challenge the government’s surveillance program of phone records at the Supreme Court.

Paul spoke on Fox News Sunday after revelations last week that the U.S. National Security Agency is collecting data on U.S. residents’ telephone calls and foreign nationals’ internet activity.

“We’re talking about trolling through billions of phone records,” Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on the Fox broadcast. “That is unconstitutional. It invades our privacy.”

While some U.S. lawmakers from both parties acknowledged last week that they were aware of the programs and backed them to combat terrorism, the disclosure is putting pressure on President Obama to explain their scope.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence, defended the programs Saturday, calling them lawful efforts that were disclosed to lawmakers and accusing the news media of being “reckless” by distorting them in reports.

The activities are “conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorized by Congress,” Clapper said in a statement Saturday. “Their purpose is to obtain foreign intelligence information, including information necessary to thwart terrorist and cyber-attacks against the United States and its allies.”

The Obama administration confirmed the existence of the programs Thursday after reports emerged of a secret court order compelling
Verizon Communications to provide the NSA with data on all its customers’ telephone use.

The leaders of the Senate and House intelligence committees yesterday defended the programs.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California who chairs the Senate’s panel, said on ABC’s This Week that she is “open” to having a public hearing into U.S. surveillance.

Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan and chairman of the House committee, said the information
being gathered is limited in nature.

“The National Security Agency does not listen to Americans’ phone calls and it is not reading Americans’ emails,” Rogers said on the ABC program. “None of these programs allow that.”

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