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NSA chief says access to data must be ‘timely’

The vast scope of surveillance was revealed in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden

Published: Updated:

National Security Agency director Michael Rogers said Monday the intelligence agency needs “timely” access to data in any program which replaces one ruled illegal by an appeals court.

Asked about last week’s court ruling on the agency’s massive bulk data collection program, Rogers said it is not his role to set policy, but that he hopes any new program will allow the NSA quick access to data to find terrorist threats.

“What concerns me the most is timely access to data, because if we are going to generate outcomes in a process that takes weeks and months it doesn’t really generate the kind of value we need,” Rogers said at a cybersecurity forum at George Washington University.

“We need to come up with a process that lets us generate insights and access the data in a much quicker time frame.”

The comments were the first from the NSA chief since a ruling Thursday from a U.S. appeals court that the agency’s massive collection of phone records of Americans goes far beyond what Congress authorized.

Rogers said his agency carries out the “legal framework” that is “developed by Congress and tested by the courts” but also argued that the bulk surveillance “generates value” for the intelligence agency.

The vast scope of surveillance was revealed in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, which shocked many Americans and U.S. allies.

Rogers, the U.S. navy admiral who heads the NSA, said the court decision means Congress must come up with a different approach that allows access to data on threats but with great protection of civil liberties and privacy.

“We have got to create a framework for this program that enables it to generate the capabilities and insights to help defend the nation but we’ve got to do it in a way that ensures the privacy of our citizens and engenders confidence in the nation,” he told the forum.

Last week’s ruling ups the pressure on Congress to pass reforms on surveillance laws ahead of a June 1 expiration of the key law in question, known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Lawmakers are currently debating whether to reform the law or extend it.