As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, a new program run by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) is collecting and analyzing all manner of government data on American citizens, even those not suspected of any crime. This sweeping surveillance program was enacted in secret, with no input from either the people or our representatives in Congress, and records that the ACLU has obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request make it clear that the program was controversial even among those who knew about it.
Now, two congressmen are demanding to know the Justice Department’s legal justification for these sweeping new surveillance powers – and why they were not included in the debate.
In a letter released yesterday, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) take Attorney General Eric Holder to task. They ask whether the Justice Department believes that the government has the legal authority to a) keep data on citizens who are not suspected of any crime; b) analyze aggregated government databases; and c) change fundamental rules governing surveillance without approval from Congress. Chaffetz chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that deals with terror-related issues.
Chaffetz and Gowdy are spot-on in declaring that “changes, which fundamentally alter the relationship between the government and the governed, should only be made with input from the people.” Their call for transparency and accountability is both welcome and needed.