U.S. lawmakers -- many of whom backed broad new digital surveillance initiatives after the 2001 terrorist attacks -- say they never intended for the government to build a database for every phone call in America.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee, facing a public backlash against the spying programs, threatened Wednesday to curtail the government's domestic spying authority if the Obama administration fails to take corrective measures.
The lawmakers' criticisms came at a hearing with administration officials who sought to defend the once-secret government telephone snooping made public last month by former government contractor Edward Snowden.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole told the panel that retrieved metadata are limited to phone numbers and the length of calls, and do not include the names of individuals. He also stressed that the information collected does not include the content of any phone calls.
Cole also said records collected by the National Security Agency fall under longstanding Supreme Court precedents and are not protected by the Fourth Amendment .
He also testified that surveillance programs were authorized by Congress in legislation that included the post-September 11, 2001 Patriot Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and its subsequent amendments.
Deputy National Security Agency Director John Inglis said the government can only search the aggregate data for more detail if it has a reasonable suspicion that a phone number under scrutiny is connected to terrorism.