BURLINGTON — On Friday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders asked the National Security Agency director whether the agency has monitored the phone calls, emails and Internet traffic of members of Congress and other elected officials.
“Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials?” Sanders asked in a letter to Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director. “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?”
Sanders said he was “deeply concerned” by revelations that American intelligence agencies harvested records of phone calls, emails and web activity by millions of innocent Americans without any reason to even suspect involvement in illegal activities. He also cited reports that the United States eavesdropped on the leaders of Germany, Mexico, Brazil and other allies.
Sanders emphasized that the United States “must be vigilant and aggressive in protecting the American people from the very real danger of terrorist attacks,” but he cited U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon’s recent ruling that indiscriminate dragnets by the NSA were probably unconstitutional and “almost Orwellian.”
Sanders has introduced legislation to put strict limits on sweeping powers used by the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to secretly track telephone calls by millions of Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.
The measure would put limits on records that may be searched. Authorities would be required to establish a reasonable suspicion, based on specific information, in order to secure court approval to monitor business records related to a specific terrorism suspect. Sanders’ bill also would put an end to open-ended court orders that have resulted in wholesale data mining by the NSA and FBI.
Instead, the government would be required to provide reasonable suspicion to justify searches for each record or document that it wants to examine.