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Minnesotans weigh in on controversial U.S. surveillance program

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After a top secret order was disclosed this week that required Verizon to hand over cell phone records to the feds, a public debate emerged surrounding the National Security Agency's monitoring of telephone records, emails, web searches and credit card activity.

The agency says it's using its access to the communications of millions of Americans to target possible terrorists, but those opposed to the surveillance program say it encroaches on privacy rights.

“We need to have some requirement that there be some real basis for surveilling people before you look at their phone records,” Rep. Keith Ellison said on CNN Friday, according to the Star Tribune's report.

Minnesota's delegates are divided on the whether the government should use its power to collect private data, the newspaper said.

"We absolutely do know that this has prevented terrorist attacks,” Paulsen, who supports the program, said in a radio interview.

MPR reports former state Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch worked for the NSA as a Russian language specialist during her time in the Air Force.

"I can understand from a foreign intelligence perspective why [monitoring] could be very important and very advantageous," Koch told MPR. "I also can, as a private citizen now, understand concerns that I have and I'm sure every one has about exactly what's being recorded, what's being disseminated, what's happening with my communications."

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the 2001 U.S. Patriot Act authorized the collection of phone and business records without a court order.

The Wall Street Journal reports in 2006, the Bush administration moved to formalize court oversite of the NSA programs and Congress made changes to the Patriot Act that made it easier for the government to collect phone-subscriber data--changes that helped the NSA data collection program become institutionalized.

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