News / USA

Lawmakers Question Collection of Americans' Phone Records

From left to right, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Robert S. Litt, general counsel in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, NSA Deputy Director John C. Inglis, testify at a House Judiciary hearing on domestic spying on on Capitol Hill, July 17, 2013.
From left to right, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Robert S. Litt, general counsel in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, NSA Deputy Director John C. Inglis, testify at a House Judiciary hearing on domestic spying on on Capitol Hill, July 17, 2013.
Cindy Saine
— Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on the Judiciary have questioned why the National Security Agency is collecting the phone records of millions of Americans, when the majority of the calls are not relevant to any terrorist investigations.

The focus on Capitol Hill is shifting away from the former contractor who revealed the surveillance programs, Edward Snowden, to privacy and civil liberty concerns.

Edward Snowden, who has now applied for temporary asylum in Russia, unleashed a firestorm of controversy in the United States and abroad when he revealed massive phone and email surveillance programs conducted by the NSA. The House Committee on the Judiciary focused on the program authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which was designed to prevent another major terror attack on the United States after September 11, 2001.  

Under Section 215, the NSA has been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans and can store them for five years.

"Do you think a program of this magnitude, gathering information involving a large number of people involved with telephone companies and so on, could be indefinitely kept secret from the American people," asked Republican committee chairman Bob Goodlatte.

"Well, we tried," replied Robert Litt of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Ranking member John Conyers, a Democrat, said he believes the gathering itself of millions of phone records violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing the right to be free of unreasonable searches or seizures.

"I feel very uncomfortable about using aggregated metadata on hundreds of millions of Americans, everybody, including every member of Congress and every citizen who has a phone in the United States of America," he said. "This is unsustainable, it is outrageous and must be stopped immediately."

Deputy Attorney General James Cole defended the program, explaining that the phone records collected do not include any names of individuals, but just the numbers and the length of the calls.

"And they do not include the content of any phone calls," he said. "These are the kinds of records that under longstanding Supreme Court precedent are not protected by the Fourth Amendment."

But most of the members of the committee said their constituents are concerned about a possible breach of privacy, and said they as lawmakers were never aware of the scope of the program.

Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner has been a staunch defender of the Patriot Act. Sensenbrenner, however, said the current phone records program has gone too far and must be changed before it expires in 2015.

"And unless you realize you have a problem, that is not going to be renewed. There are not the votes in the House of Representatives to renew Section 215," he said.

Government officials testifying at the hearing said they are willing to work with Congress, and stressed that the sole purpose of collecting the records is to help U.S. intelligence agencies defend against terror attacks. Some lawmakers suggested that the NSA negotiate with phone companies to get them to agree to store records for five years, instead of the NSA collecting and storing them, and then if there were a reasonable suspicion, the NSA could obtain a warrant to get the records of a targeted individual.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid