Two Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee rejected claims President Barack Obama made Friday that the National Security Agency's phone records collection program strikes the "right balance" on civil liberties and national security.
In a blunt intra-party response to the president's remarks, Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said they "disagree."
"When Americans call their friends and family, whom they call, when they call, and where they call from is private information," they said. "We believe the large-scale collection of this information by the government has a very significant impact on Americans' privacy, whether senior government officials recognize that fact or not."
Udall and Wyden also reacted to the president's claims that surveillance programs like the NSA's phone records collection effort "help us prevent terrorist attacks." Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has likewise claimed that the agency's phone records collection helped thwart at least one specific attack.
After years of study, the senators said, they have seen no evidence that the NSA program "has actually provided any uniquely valuable intelligence."
"As far as we can see, all of the useful information that it has provided appears to have also been available through other collection methods that do not violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans in the way that the Patriot Act collection does," Udall and Wyden said. "We hope that President Obama will probe the basis for these assertions, as we have."
Though they sit on the same secretive intelligence committee as Feinstein, Udall and Wyden seem to have come to a strikingly different conclusions about whether the domestic surveillance program works. The senators said they would like more information about the program to be released in public so that Americans can make up their own minds.
"The American people must be given the opportunity to evaluate the facts about this program and its broad scope for themselves, so that this debate can begin in earnest," they said.