House Judiciary Committee lawmakers grilled top Obama Administration officials Wednesday over National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations that the agency collects American communications data in bulk.
Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole testified before a bipartisan group of lawmakers, reasserting the Administration’s claim that the NSA’s tactics “achieve the right balance” between protecting American safety and privacy.
But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concern that the NSA is violating Americans’ Constitutionally-protected privacy rights.
“It’s clear to me that we have a very serious violation of the law,” Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) told an assembly of officials representing the Justice Department, NSA, FBI, and Director of National Intelligence’s Office. “I feel very uncomfortable about 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. This is unsustainable, it’s outrageous, and must be stopped immediately.”
Other lawmakers called for Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which grants the government the power to collect communications metadata, to be changed. Otherwise, lawmakers say the provision will not muster the legislative support needed for renewal so that it can be used to target legitimate terror concerns.
“It’s got to be changed,” said Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.). “And you’ve got to change how you operate 215 . . . or you’re not going to have it anymore.”
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) agreed with the Republican’s assessment.
“I think very clearly this program has gone off the tracks legally and needs to be reined in,” she said.