February 2, 2006 | By Kurt Opsahl

Government Should Come Clean About Data-Mining Programs

Earlier this week, we sued AT&T over its collaboration in the government domestic spying program, subjecting the communications of millions of ordinary Americans to government surveillance. The domestic spying program alleged in our complaint is larger than that admitted to by the government, and numerous news reports have also described a far wider program. Instead of coming clean about the extent of its domestic surveillance, the government continued its cagey defense at today's Senate hearing.

Since the domestic spying program was revealed to the public, the government has carefully limited its protestations of a focused surveillance program to "the NSA activities described by the President." The New York Times reports that the government today refused to foreclose the possibility that there are more activities than described by the President:

In one pointed exchange, Senator Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, a Democrat, asked Mr. Negroponte whether there were any other intelligence programs that had not been revealed to the full intelligence committees.

The intelligence chief hesitated, then replied, "Senator, I don't know if I can answer that in open session."

A similarly revealing sparring session came when Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, pressed the intelligence officials about whether a controversial Pentagon data-mining program called Total Information Awareness had been effectively transferred to the intelligence agencies after being shut down by Congress.

Mr. Negroponte and the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, both said they did not know. Then came the turn of Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who headed N.S.A. for six years before becoming the principal deputy director of national intelligence last spring.

"Senator," General Hayden said, "I'd like to answer in closed session."

(Senate Intelligence Cmte. Hearing on World-Wide Threat video available at C-Span)

As you can see, when the government defends spying on Americans by claiming a limited program, that's not even close to the whole story. If the NSA is not data-mining and the domestic spying program is truly limited, AT&T and the government need to explain what they are doing with the call data of million of ordinary Americans.

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