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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid