Begich Responds to Report that Government Obtained Millions of Private Citizens’ Phone Records

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich released the following statement after learning that the National Security Administration (NSA) secretly obtained millions of phone communications from Verizon Wireless users in the United States.

Begich has in the past cited concerns about the number of private communications the administration has secretly collected under their interpretation of authorities granted by laws – which Begich has vehemently opposed.

“I’m troubled to learn the phone records of perhaps thousands of Americans have been obtained by the government. Alaskans are fiercely protective of our constitutional right to privacy. Today’s news raises concerns that those rights may have violated,” said Begich. “It is clear there needs to be greater transparency to avoid this type of unchecked monitoring of Americans’ personal communications. I have repeatedly called for a better balance between protecting our safety and protecting our Constitutional rights and will continue to do so. I fully expect the administration to respond to these reports as soon as possible and make sure that the entire U.S. Senate receives a briefing on these activities so that we may understand what actions we need to take to protect Americans’ privacy.”

Begich voted against the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments this past December citing concerns that the bill infringed on Americans’ Constitutional rights and lacked basic transparency.

Begich also signed onto a letter with several of his colleagues in July of 2012 requesting more information about the number of Americans’ communications secretly collected by the U.S. government under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The letter also raised concerns about a loophole in FISA, the four-year old surveillance law that gives the government the ability to search for Americans’ private communications, including phone calls and emails, without a warrant. Additionally, Begich has supported efforts to declassify court opinions on FISA which have secretly made determinations about the intent and reach of the law.

“I am pleased that Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee Senator Barbara Mikulski and Senator Richard Shelby have called for a full committee briefing on this issue,” Begich said. “As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will continue to work in a bi-partisan manner to ask tough questions and hold the administration responsible for this potential over-reach. My colleagues and I must continue to focus on strengthening privacy protections, declassifying secret interpretations of the law and cutting funding for this type of activity.”