The president’s “reforms” of the NSA continue apace, as his pick to become the new head of the agency today defended mass spying on Americans, saying it is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks.
Responding to questions from Senators, Vice Admiral Michael Rogers stated that it is imperative that the NSA have access to vast amounts of metadata, in order that the government can keep Americans safe.
Rogers argued that Section 215 of the Patriot Act should remain intact and the spooks should not be hindered from using it to justify mass surveillance.
“The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible,” Rogers said.
While making insignificant noises about “welcoming a dialogue” on “transparency”, a now empty promise that Americans have heard ad infinitum from the administration, Rogers essentially defended the NSA’s programs and said the status quo should be maintained.
“I believe that we need to maintain an ability to make queries of phone records in a way that is agile and provides results in a timely fashion. Being able to quickly review phone connections associated with terrorists to assess whether a network exists is critical.” he stated.
Rogers added that the most difficult task he faces is to convince Americans the government has their best interests at heart.
“How do we engage the American people, and by extension, their representatives, in a dialogue in which they have a level of comfort as to what we are doing and why.” Rogers said.
He also claimed that it would be possible to effectively outsource the surveillance program to have telcoms maintain the database of communications data, as suggested by Obama as part of the “reform” process.
“I believe, sir, with the right construct, we can make that work,” Rogers said in response to a question from Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate panel.
Senators Mark Udall and Ted Cruz pressed Rogers during the hearing, pushing for an assurance that he would seek to end bulk phone records collection. Of course, it was not forthcoming:
Critics have jumped on Rogers’ nomination for NSA head, charging that he represents continuity for the NSA rather than any meaningful change.
“Right now, we don’t know a lot about Mike Rogers, but the little we do know suggests he is not a reform candidate at all, but more of the same,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “It’s a shame President Obama didn’t use this opportunity to appoint an NSA chief that can better calibrate Americans’ growing privacy concerns against the NSA’s current goal to ‘collect it all.”
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