WASHINGTON -- The Huffington Post has obtained talking points instructing members of Congress on how to defend two controversial surveillance programs operated by the National Security Agency. The talking points originate from the Democratic side of House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) serves as ranking member.
The programs, detailed in exposes published by The Guardian and The Washington Post, have alarmed civil liberties advocates for collecting a wide range of information about citizens who are not suspected of having committed crimes.
The talking points are divided into two documents, one dedicated to a program that allows the U.S. government to collect the phone call records of all American citizens, including the telephone numbers involved and length of calls. The other document is dedicated a program that collects mass metadata on Internet activities, including email, that relate to matters the NSA deems a foreign threat to the United States.
Both documents assert that the programs are not secret. But the programs have alarmed Americans because most citizens were unaware of their existence prior to the recent articles, and the programs were authorised by a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose rulings are, in fact, secret.
The talking points regarding the Internet program read:
Section 702 is a vital legal tool that Congress reauthorized in December 2012, as part of the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act, after extensive hearings and debate. Under Section 702, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) certifies foreign intelligence collection. There is no secret program involved -- it is strictly authorized by a U.S. statute.
The talking points for the phone records program read:
The news articles have been discussing what purports to be a classified, lawfully-authorized order that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) issued under an Act of Congress -- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Under this Act, the FISA Court authorized a collection of business records. There is no secret program involved here -- it is strictly authorized by a U.S. statute.
The talking points appear to be about a week old, but are currently being distributed to and examined by members of Congress.
"Some of the articles that have been out there in the media have been confusing for members, so we put together this information to help them understand the programs," said Heather Molino, staff director for Ruppersberger. "They were distributed to members of the committee, as well as to other members that requested them. The processes are complicated, so what we tried to do in the fact sheets was show what the processes were, and explain the information that's correct and the information that's not."
Read the full talking points below.