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NSA questioned over unauthorized call-record collection by Sens. Ron Wyden, Rand Paul

August 3, 2018

Senators from both sides of the aisle sought answers from the National Security Agency’s internal watchdog Thursday involving the “technical irregularities” that resulted in the NSA recently deleting several years’ worth of call records collected outside the scope of its authority.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, wrote the NSA’s inspector general in response to the agency stating recently that it was erasing call records that it had obtained from telecommunications providers but “was not authorized to receive.”

“Was the deletion of data sufficient to ensure that all unauthorized production was, in fact, deleted?” the senators wrote in their 2-page letter to Robert Storch, a former Deputy of Justice deputy inspector general serving as the NSA’s in-house watchdog since January.

“Has the NSA adequately ensured, not only that the same unauthorized production will not reoccur, but also that systems are in place to prevent other technical irregularities from resulting in unauthorized production?

The NSA’s office of the inspector general received the senators’ letter but declined to comment further, a representative told The Washington Times.

The NSA is authorized to gather signals intelligence, including some telecommunication metadata, or call records, but is restricted with respect to the scope of individuals subject to surveillance, particularly after passage of the USA Freedom Act in 2015 reined in its practice of collecting data on virtually every American phone call.

The agency said in late June that “analysts noted technical irregularities in some data received from telecommunications service providers,” resulting in NSA amassing records outside the scope of its authority slated for deletion.

“When Congress passed the USA FREEDOM Act and ended the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, it expected that mass surveillance would be replaced by a carefully controlled system that only obtained a limited set records described in the law,” said Mr. Wyden. “Congress and the American people need to know what went wrong before we make any decisions to continue these authorities.”

“Vital questions remain about how the NSA collects sensitive information, as well as how the agency has addressed its latest admitted violations of the law and Americans’ privacy. Our letter seeks answers to help ensure innocent Americans’ rights are being respected,” said Mr. Paul.

The NSA is currently authorized to collect certain call records under a provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act currently slated to expire in late 2019. The senators said they expect answers from NSA “well in advance of the sunset of these collection authorities,” adding that the responses will “inform a public debate” concerning its reauthorization.

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