Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) have sounded an alarm over government overreach under the auspices of the PATRIOT Act, arguing that the administration has adopted a "secret law," an interpretation of the statute that extended the surveillance capacity of the government beyond what Congress authorized under the law.

More information about this classified program emerged this month, when Wyden and Udall released a letter they'd written to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about location tracking of Americans.

In a letter to the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the senators demand information on whether the agencies he leads, including the NSA and the CIA, “have the authority to collect the geolocation information of American citizens for intelligence purposes.”

“If yes, please explain the specific statutory basis for this authority,” the letter states.[...]

The letter also asks how many Americans have had their communications monitored under authority granted by 2008 legislation amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “Have any apparently law-abiding Americans had their communications collected by the government?” they write.

In a confirmation hearing in the Intelligence committee Tuesday, Wyden asked general counsel of the National Security Agency if the government was tracking U.S. citizens using cellular data.

According to the general counsel of the National Security Agency, it may have that authority. Matthew Olsen, who is currently at the NSA and has been nominated to lead the National Counterterrorism Center, discussed the possibility at a confirmation hearing Tuesday morning in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“There are certain circumstances where that authority may exist,” he said. His comments came after Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) asked him several times whether the government has the authority to “use cell site data to track the location of Americans inside the country.”

Although Olsen acknowledged the possibility, he also said “it is a very complicated question” and that the intelligence community is working on a memo that will provide a better answer for the committee.

Committee chair Dianne Feinstein has asked for the memo for the committee's first hearing after the August recess. No word yet whether that will be a closed, classified hearing. Wyden and Udall seem committed to taking this program to the public, however.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Tue Jul 26, 2011 at 12:08 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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