Back in 2010, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) first started warning us that "Americans would be stunned to learn" about how broadly the government interprets its authorities under Patriot Act Section 215. Now that the cat's out of the bag about the NSA collecting millions of Americans phone records, it's big of him not to whip out the old "I told you so" – but really, he told us so.
Americans across the country are outraged, and Democrats and Republicans alike are scrambling to introduce legislation that will rein in the government's out-of-control surveillance programs and force disclosure about these programs' breadth and legal rationale. Clearly, not just everyday Americans were "stunned," but members of Congress too –and the bi-partisan group hasn't exactly been timid in expressing its anger.
Responding to the leaks, Wyden stated that he believes that "when law-abiding Americans call their friends, who they call, when they call, and where they call from is private information. Collecting this data about every single phone call that every American makes every day would be a massive invasion of Americans' privacy." Furthermore, he says that "[b]ased on several years of oversight, I believe that its value and effectiveness remain unclear."
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who also helped to sound the "secret law" alarm, joined Wyden in disputing the efficacy of the surveillance program, saying "[w]e have not seen any evidence showing that the NSA's dragnet collection of Americans' phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a longtime opponent of the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act, called "the revelation…an outrageous abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution," as well as "an astounding assault on the Constitution."
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), said that he is "deeply disturbed" by these reports and that "under this secret court order, millions of innocent Americans have been subject to government surveillance."
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) called the NSA wiretapping of Verizon phones "yet another example of government overreach that forces the question, ‘What sort of state are we living in?' There is clearly a glaring difference between what the government is doing and what the American people think they are doing."
Sen. Max Baucus' (D-Mont.) press release stated that "[e]veryone wants to do their part to keep America safe, but that doesn't give the government free reign to ignore civil liberties. I have very serious concerns with law-abiding citizens getting swept up in surveillance that is meant for terrorists. If the government really needs this type of information to keep the country safe, they ought to be able to make their case in an open and transparent courtroom instead of behind closed doors."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the surveillance programs "an unprecedented intrusion into Americans' personal phone records and potentially into their broader online activities," and says that this surveillance "fits into a troubling pattern of disregarding the Bill of Rights."
Even Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who originally voted for the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping, wrote to the President that these surveillance programs "raise extremely serious concerns about why such a broad collection is necessary and how this information is used."
In the House, members are equally alarmed.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who voted in favor of the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping, calls the surveillance "more than creepy" and "beyond the imagination of George Orwell."
And Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) authored a letter signed by a bipartisan group of 19 members questioning the surveillance program. Speaking of members who support it, he said, "Maybe too much time in D.C. has left them totally oblivious to what's right and wrong."
Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) called the programs "secret and blanket form of surveillance on the American public - whether they are suspected of wrongdoing or not."
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) stated that he was "deeply troubled" and that "it is becoming uncomfortably clear that the privacy of the American people is being compromised by intrusive and over-zealous intelligence gathering and law-enforcement activity."
And then there's the coup de grâce.
When even Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the author of the Patriot Act, writes the Attorney General that he is "extremely disturbed by what appears to be an overbroad interpretation of the [Patriot] Act" and that "these reports are deeply concerning and raise questions about whether our constitutional rights are secure," it's time to rein in the surveillance state and repeal the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act.