Advocacy groups, companies urge Congress to rein in NSA spying

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The letter urged Congress to revise the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to outlaw blanket surveillance of any people in the United States. The groups also said that any public officials who authorized unconstitutional surveillance should be held accountable. 

"We are calling on Congress to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs," the groups wrote.

News reports last week revealed details of two NSA surveillance programs. Under the first program, the NSA is able to obtain court orders to compel phone providers to turn over records on all of their customers, including people in the United States. The records include phone numbers, call time, call duration and other information, but not the contents of any communications.

The second program, called PRISM, gives the NSA access to the contents of people's online data, such as emails, video chats and documents. According to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the Internet companies provide user data to the NSA only after receiving an order approved by a secret FISA court. Those courts only approve information requests if there is a "foreign intelligence purpose" and the target is "reasonably believed" to be outside of the U.S., the government said.

Clapper has claimed that both programs provide critical information to thwart terrorist attacks and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

But the civil liberties advocates claimed the government is abusing its legal powers.

"This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy," they wrote. "This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously and guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that protect their right to privacy."