Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., grilled a lawyer for the National Security Agency on Tuesday as he continued his quest to make sure government agencies aren’t illegally tracking Americans with their own cell phones.
NSA chief counsel Matthew Olsen, who has been nominated to lead the National Counterterrorism Center, told Wyden and the Senate Intelligence Committee that there may be “certain circumstances” where the spy agency has the authority to track Americans.
Olsen called the question “complicated and difficult” and said a complete answer would be given in a written memo, which was requested earlier this month by Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.
Wyden expressed concerns over secret interpretations of the laws governing surveillance in the United States. “It’s my view that we have to keep operation and methods secret but we’ve also got to have public awareness of the laws on the books,” he said during Tuesday’s hearing.
Wyden has been pressing the issue for some time. In May, Wyden accused the Justice Department of interpreting the Patriot Act in a way that would alarm Americans.
“When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry,” he said in a floor speech during the debate over reauthorizing the controversial Patriot Act, which was enacted after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
To curb any potential abuses, Wyden and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced the Geolocational Privacy Surveillance Act, or GPS Act, in June. The bill, numbered H.R.2168, would require government agencies to obtain a warrant before tracking someone by GPS, similar to the current requirements for a phone tap.
“I think it’s great that GPS and tracking technology exists,” Chaffetz said at the time. “What isn’t great is the idea that this technology can be used to track somebody without their knowledge. Quite frankly, the government and law enforcement should not be able to track somebody indefinitely without their knowledge or consent, or without obtaining a warrant from a judge.”