Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that people's smartphones can be used as a tracking device to monitor their whereabouts and activities. He argued that privacy protections need to be put in place so the government cannot engage in mobile phone tracking in the future.
"The piece of technology we consider vital to the conduct of our everyday personal and professional life … happens to be a combination phone bug, listening device, location tracker and hidden camera," he said.
"Without adequate protections built into the law there’s no way that Americans can ever be sure that the government isn’t going to interpret its authorities more and more broadly, year after year, until the idea of a tele-screen monitoring your every move turns from dystopia to reality," Wyden added.
The Oregon Democrat said the government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act beyond the intent of the law to operate controversial surveillance programs. He criticized senior intelligence officials for making "misleading statements" to the public and Congress about the surveillance programs.
Wyden was unsparing in his criticism of the government's interpretation of surveillance laws and derided the oversight power of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The government has essentially kept people in the dark about their broad interpretations of the law, he said. Wyden tells constituents there are two Patriot Acts: One they read online at home and "the secret interpretation of the law that the government is actually relying upon."
"If Americans are not able to learn how their government is interpreting and executing the law then we have effectively eliminated the most important bulwark of our democracy," he said.
The National Security Agency has come under scrutiny for using the Patriot Act to collect the telephone records — including the numbers that consumers call and the duration of those calls — of U.S. citizens. The phone metadata collection program came to light after former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents about them to The Guardian and The Washington Post.
But Wyden claims "there is nothing in the Patriot Act that limits this sweeping bulk collection to phone records." He said the government could use its authority under the law to collect and store sensitive information such as medical records or credit card purchases, or "develop a database of gun owners or readers of books and magazines deemed subversive."
"This means that the government’s authority to collect information on law-abiding American citizens is essentially limitless," he said.
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