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Supporters favor idea that data collection could have prevented 9/11

Jan. 13, 2014 at 9:03 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- White House advisers say they believe data collection could have prevented the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, a notion critics dispute.

Aides said President Obama accepted the "9/11" validation during recent White House meetings, expressing the belief that domestic phone records could have helped identify some of the terrorists who later crashed passenger jets in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

Critics of the massive monitoring systems conducted by the National Security Agency, along with some scholars of the attack, dispute the view that the data collection would necessarily have made a difference then or justifies the program now.

The presidential task force that reviewed surveillance operations concluded last month the program "was not essential" to preventing terrorist attacks.

On Friday, Obama will announce his proposals to change intelligence operations and oversight that most likely will modify, but not stop, the collection of billions of phone call logs. He is expected to propose actions aides said he hopes will make Americans more comfortable with the program but not rein in its scope as a counter-terrorism tool, the Times said.

The Times said one change could be shifting the accumulating and archiving of telephone metadata from the NSA back to the telephone companies or a private third party.

The government currently collects and stores phone numbers dialed and call times involving virtually all phone calls in or through the United States, but does not collect contents of conversations.

"This capability was put in place after 9/11 for a good reason," a senior administration official told the Times. "The question we have to examine is whether the perception of privacy intrusion outweighs the operational value. It's possible we could get that same information ... in other ways, but it's slower."

Privacy and civil liberties activists said the government overstates the value of collecting phone logs, arguing it is too far-reaching and too intrusive, and that other counter-terrorism tools are available, the Times said.

The "big question ... [is] whether our government is going to spy on Americans," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

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