NSA Data Collection: Necessary, or Unconstitutional? (NRO.com, 5/11/15)

National Review Online

By Fred Fleitz
Although the Obama administration refuses to say that the attempted massacre by two heavily armed assailants at a “draw Mohammed” contest in Garland, Texas, was an act of terrorism directed by ISIS, there is little doubt this was the case. One of the heavily armed attackers had been in touch through Twitter with jihadists in Australia and Somalia who were associated with ISIS and who had called for attacks on the Garland event. ISIS also seemed to know about the attack in advance and immediately claimed responsibility for it.

Pamela Geller, the organizer of the “draw Mohammed” contest, wrote this week that whether ISIS leaders actually directed the attack or only had foreknowledge of it is a distinction without a difference, since ISIS has called for attacks on the United States and published manuals explaining how homegrown Islamist terrorists can construct bombs and kill infidels.

The Garland attack was stopped in a matter of seconds — but only because of a heavy police presence assigned to the event and a traffic cop who somehow killed both assailants with his service revolver even though they were wearing body armor. However, this will certainly not be the last attack in the United States by homegrown terrorists inspired or directed by ISIS and al-Qaeda. There may not be heavy security in place the next time ISIS attacks.

This is why Senator Mitch McConnell recently introduced a “clean” — that is, with no changes at all — reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which extends three of its provisions on electronic-surveillance programs used to protect our country against terrorist attacks. The most controversial is the NSA metadata program enacted in Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Opponents of the 215 program claim it is an unconstitutional violation of privacy rights and say that it has played no role in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks. Both of these claims are untrue. Under the metadata program, the NSA collects large numbers of phone records — not the contents of phone calls — and uses them to make connections between terror suspects. The program is subject to strong oversight by the executive branch, Congress, and the courts and is used only for national-security investigations. Only 22 people at the NSA are allowed access to these metadata, and they are barred from any data-mining, even in connection with an investigation.

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