As Congress reconsiders how the U.S. gathers intelligence about potential terrorist threats, one federal lawmakers is questioning proposed changes to the government’s wiretap authority.
There’s been a push in Washington to overhaul the system following security leaks in 2013 by Edward Snowden, a former system administrator who released National Security Agency classified data on global surveillance programs. The scandal inspired the USA Freedom Act, recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes a ban on the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, texts, and online interactions.
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who chairs the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, says there are misconceptions about how that information is being used. “I think the American public think we’re doing way way more than we actually are…It’s metadata, not megadata. It’s just phone numbers, date, time…that’s it.”
Under the Freedom Act, phone companies would hang on to the data, which the federal government could then get a warrant to obtain if there’s cause to believe it’s linked to a terrorist investigation. Johnson questions the efficiency of that approach though, and believes it will “degrade” the nation’s ability to monitor potential terrorist communications.
AUDIO: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (2:51)
Unless Congress acts on the Freedom Act or passes an extension, the wire-tap provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire in June. Johnson says he expects he will support the bill, rather than allowing the surveillance powers and other issues it addresses to slip away.