Thursday, June 6, 2013 | 2:57 p.m.
Interest groups, political observers and private citizens spent Thursday up in arms over revelations that the U.S. government has been collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers for years.
But Sen. Harry Reid wasn’t ruffled by the news.
“Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn’t brand new,” Reid said. “It’s been going on for some seven years.”
That the government has been collecting so much information for so long is precisely the point that stirred such voices as The New York Times editorial board to declare that President Barack Obama’s administration “has now lost all credibility,” and was “proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.”
The administration currently gets its authority to collect such data through secret court orders, the most recent of which it received in April. The basis for that authority comes from the Patriot Act.
Reid has a mixed history with the Patriot Act: He supported its initial iteration in 2001, but objected that the reauthorization gave the government too much latitude to conduct domestic surveillance.
“Liberty and security are not contradictory,” Reid said when the bill was being debated in 2005. “Additional congressional and judicial oversight of the government’s surveillance and investigative authorities need not hamper the government’s ability to fight terrorism.”
After a few more months of debate and changes, Reid would vote to reauthorize the version of the Patriot Act that established the procedure that would lead to the telephone data collection.
Reid defended the anti-terrorism program.
“It’s a program that’s worked to prevent not all terrorism but certainly the vast, vast majority,” Reid said.
But when asked about the controversy, Reid only suggested that there may be room for unspecified improvement of the program.
“Is the program perfect? Of course not,” Reid said. “We’ve tried often to make it better and we’ll continue to do that.”