Senators: 'No evidence' NSA phone sweeps are useful

Three Democratic senators filed a brief in federal court on Tuesday supporting a lawsuit to end the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records.

Sens. Mark UdallMark UdallPicking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' Election autopsy: Latinos favored Clinton more than exit polls showed MORE (Colo.), Ron WydenRon WydenFive fights for Trump’s first year Wyden pushing to mandate 'basic cybersecurity' for Senate Consumer groups blast DHS head for seeking travelers' social media passwords MORE (Ore.) and Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichSenate Dems want Trump to release ethics waivers, visitor logs Senate Dems offer bill to restore internet privacy rules Overnight Cybersecurity: Rice denies wrongly unmasking Trump team | Dems plead for electric grid cyber funds | China reportedly targeting cloud providers MORE (N.M.), who all have access to classified information as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, argued that the controversial program does little to combat terrorism. 

"[The senators] have reviewed this surveillance extensively and have seen no evidence that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records has provided any intelligence of value that could not have been gathered through less intrusive means," lawyers for the lawmakers wrote.  

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They argued that more targeted surveillance programs could have been used to gather the same information that the NSA obtained through the phone data collection.

"Because the government’s call-records program needlessly intrudes upon the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Americans, [the senators] believe the bulk collection of these phone records should be ended," they wrote. 

The controversial program collects phone numbers, call times and call durations on virtually all U.S. phone calls, but not the contents of communications. 

The lawmakers filed their brief to support a lawsuit from a coalition of civil liberties groups led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. 

The lawsuit claims that the bulk collection violates constitutional rights to privacy, free speech and free association. Public Knowledge, TechFreedom, a Unitarian church and a California gun rights group also signed on to the suit, which was filed in California.

The senators are also pushing legislation to end the bulk phone data collection. 

Defenders of the program argue it is critical for "connecting the dots" and thwarting terrorist attacks.