WASHINGTON — In the face of threats from ISIS, the National Security Agency’s end Sunday to the bulk collection of phone records is a “real mistake,” according to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The expiration of the program – exposed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden – means “it could take weeks” to examine phone records of suspected terrorists because of the need for individual court orders, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) said on Fox News Sunday.
He credited the program with the apprehension of “at least a dozen” ISIS operatives in Europe and stopping a “massive terrorist attack.”
“What we saw in Paris once we got a cell phone was that we used that cell phone number to look at cell phones it had talked to—and not only Paris investigators but Belgian investigators were able to expand the search net in a way that stopped a massive terrorist attack, an additional one in Paris, [and] potentially had led to the apprehension of at least a dozen, if not more, ISIS operatives,” Burr said.
Congress approved a bill last June that killed the bulk collection program but replaced it with a more restrictive measure to keep records in phone companies’ hands.
The new law, the USA Freedom Act, requires federal authorities to request the phone data in case-by-case basis.
Backers of new law say it affords law enforcement the key tools needed to continue to prevent terrorist attacks, including the ability to analyze cell phone records, while protecting civil liberties of Americans.
The bipartisan USA Freedom act “struck a reasonable compromise which allows us to continue to protect the country while implementing various reforms,” said Ned Price, spokesman for President Obama’s National Security Council.
“National security professionals … agreed that the legislation allowed our intelligence and law enforcement professionals to retain key tools while strengthening civil liberty protections,” Price added.