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

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid