NSA not violating privacy, Rockefeller asserts
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the senior member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he is not concerned with recent revelations of data collection and spying by the National Security Agency and said nobody's privacy is being violated.
"Has anybody actually had their privacy invaded? Nobody's ever come up with a single name," Rockefeller said Friday.
Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also said people would know if their privacy was violated by the NSA, but he did not elaborate on how they would know.
He said people need to know that the telephone "metadata" the NSA collects -- phone numbers, locations and call times -- is different than actually eavesdropping on calls.
"Nobody listens. There is no surveillance, in the sense of listening, only surveillance in the sense of somebody called somebody here, who called somebody over there and you put the three together and then you evaluate what's going to happen," Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee when overhauls of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were passed in 2007 and 2008.
He said the court established by that act is effective in ensuring the privacy of Americans. The NSA is supposed to go to the FISA court for a warrant before it can conduct electronic surveillance within the United States.
"There are very few warrants which are actually issued, Rockefeller said, "very few."
Since the FISA court was first established in 1979, it has reviewed about 34,000 warrant applications by the government that requested permission to conduct foreign intelligence gathering within the United States.
Of those 34,000 applications, only 11 have been denied, according to The Washington Post, an approval rate of more than 99.9 percent.
Recent revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have shown that the NSA collects metadata on billions of American phone calls, is able to break encryption codes on most Internet programs, is checking for key words in emails and text messages that leave the United States and has broken its own privacy rules thousands of times.
"All these charges that have been made have been made by people who have an agenda," Rockefeller said. "People always assume the worst. They say, 'Well, yeah, but millions and millions of phone calls over a period of years. Trillions. And therefore what's going to happen to privacy?' And there's the assumption that something bad will happen, when, in fact, there are firewalls set up all throughout the process where things cannot happen."
Also on Friday, Rockefeller said he is not ready to announce how he will vote on using military force in Syria.
He said he has pretty much made up his mind but wanted to spend the weekend rereading intelligence material. He said he likely would make an announcement Monday or Tuesday.
"I've been to Syria many times. I've met with Assad a number of times, and I know the intelligence about them very, very well," Rockefeller said. "It's a careful decision because of two parts: If we do something, what risk do we run? If we don't do something, what risk do we run?"
Reach David Gutman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5119.