By Tim Leeds
Senator says IRS targeting, seizing phone and Internet records has to stop
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont ., said he wants some answers into the latest incident dragging the administration of President Barack Obama into scandal - a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordering mobile communication carrier Verizon Communications turn customer records over to the National Security Agency.
"I think that, quite frankly, it's outrageous," Tester said from Washington Thursday in a press conference. "I am not a fan of the Patriot Act. I have voted against it again and again. ...
"Using a FISA court to get domestic records is totally contrary," he said. "It's exactly what I was concerned about about the expanded government ability to spy on law-abiding citizens.
"I don't serve on the Intelligence Committee, but this is very distressing to me," Tester added. "I think civil liberties are part of what's made this country strong since its inception, and it's one of the reasons that I have been very, very critical of the Patriot Act."
The latest revelations are that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Agency court judge ordered the mobile communication company turn over customer records, and that a government computer program scours telephone and Internet records, collating them in a system known as "Big Data" to search for connections to potential terrorism.
Some people are raising concerns that these actions are steps toward turning the U.S. government into Big Brother from George Orwell's novel "1984."
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made a late-night statement Thursday, calling the leak of the information about programs a threat to national security by hurting intelligence gathering and listing provisions to show the programs are limited and under strict congressional and court supervision, and only are used to find information on terrorism.
The revelations come after a string of findings about actions of the Obama administration, including collecting Associated Press telephone records and that IRS officials targeted conservative groups when investigating nonprofit records and requests.
"We could have an afternoon (long) conversation on this, because this is crazy stuff ... ," Tester said. "It's outrageous."
He said the IRS targeting conservative groups is just one example.
"Although I think they are absolutely within their grounds to take a look at nonprofits and make sure they're doing the work they're supposed to be doing, to single out certain nonprofits based on political belief is absolutely totally improper, and should not, and will not, be tolerated," he said. "There's already been some heads roll on this thing and there probably should be more heads roll on this situation."
He said government targeting or infringing on civil liberties is counterproductive.
"The bottom line is, when agencies do silly stuff like that, I think it really inhibits their ability to go out and really do their job and get the folks who are ... corrupting the system and making sure they are not cheats. ... When you single out different groups based on political persuasion, that goes contrary to everything that everybody ... in this country thinks this country stands for. It's crazy stuff."
Tester added that the latest revelation just increases the need for answers.
"I think there has to be some questions answered by the administration on Capitol Hill as to why what happened happened, and I will also tell you this: I was here in 2007 when it was the previous administration and a different party, and it was the same stuff, so this goes beyond party lines.
"This is about people's civil liberties, and I think it is outrageous, and we need some answers, and we need them soon," he added.