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Udall takes concerns about NSA surveillance progams on national TV

DENVER — Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, who has long warned about the extent of domestic surveillance, disagreed with senior lawmakers in both parties who continue to say that a secret phone record-tracking program is needed to thwart potential terrorist attacks.

On ABC’s This Week and CNN’s State of the Union, Udall, a Democrat who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, expressed skepticism that the surveillance was actually achieving increased national security and called for a new national debate on the Bush-era Patriot Act.

“I think it’s an opportunity now to have a discussion about the limits of surveillance, how we create transparency, and above all, how we protect Americans’ privacy,” Udall said. “My main concern is Americans don’t know the extent to which they are being surveilled. I think we ought to reopen the Patriot Act and put some limits on the amount of data that the National Security Administration is collecting.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee argued that the phone and internet surveillance programs are limited in scope and have been instrumental in stopping terrorist attacks, citing the 2009 terror plot by Najibullah Zazi, the Aurora, Colo. shuttle driver who was arrested in Sept. 2009 after plotting to bomb the New York subway system.

Udall disagreed (multiple media reports have also questioned the White House’s claim that these programs helped detect Zazi’s plot).

It’s “unclear to me that we’ve developed any intelligence through the metadata program that’s led to the disruption of plots that we couldn’t have developed through other data and other intelligence,” he said.

The Guardian reported last week that under a government order, Verizon has turned over millions of phone records to the National Security Agency – part of a program that intelligence leaders on Capitol Hill said helped foil a terrorist plot.

“I think the line has been drawn too far toward ‘we’re going to invade your privacy’ vs. ‘we’re going to respect your privacy,’” Udall said.

“We do need to remember, we’re in a war against terrorists, and terrorism remains a real threat, but I also think we have to cue to the Bill of Rights, and the Fourth Amendment, which prevents unlawful searches and seizures, ought to be important to us,” Udall said. “It ought to remain sacred, and there’s got to be a balance here. That is what I’m aiming for.”

A few hours after Udall’s appearances on the Sunday morning shows, The Guardian revealed the identity of the whistle-blower who leaked the documents exposing both the National Security Agency’s PRISM program, which gathers electronic communications data from companies like Facebook and Google, and a government program designed to track every phone call made within or from the United States.

Edward Snowden, 29, is a former CIA employee who took leave from his job as a defense contactor for Booz Allen Hamilton in May and moved to Hong Kong, told the Guardian that he wanted his identity made public.