Senator pushes for an end to NSA phone records program

Leahy questions the constitutionality of the program, but the US attorney general defends it

Senator Patrick Leahy questioned how the Constitution allows the National Security Agency's bulk collection of U.S. telephone records and repeated his calls for President Barack Obama's administration to end the program during a hearing Wednesday.

The Obama administration should heed the recent advice of the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) and end the phone records collection program, said Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

"Is there anything in the U.S. Constitution that gives authority to the Congress to pass a law that enables and empowers an executive agency such as the NSA ... to open, to listen or to seize either the mail, the phone conversations or the electronic conversations of U.S. citizens?" asked Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Leahy called on Congress to vote to end the telephone records program. Congress should "ensure that this legal theory is not used by any administration to spy indiscriminately on its citizens," he said. The U.S. Department of Justice's current interpretation of the antiterrorism Patriot Act would allow the government "to acquire virtually any database that it might someday, down the road, for some reason, somehow find useful," Leahy added.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, testifying at the DOJ oversight hearing, defended the metadata collection program, repeating the Obama administration's view that the data collection is legal, despite the PCLOB report last week saying it is not.

Fifteen judges in the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, plus two district court judges, have found the NSA phone records program legal, Holder noted. "I believe they are correct; it is an appropriate use, in a constitutional sense, of the government's power," Holder said. "But the question is ... just because we can do something, should we do it?"

But Holder received mixed messages on the NSA phone records program from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. While Leahy repeated his call for an end to the program, others defended it. Republican Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama both said they believe the phone records program is legal.

Several other members of the Judiciary Committee didn't question Holder on the NSA program.

Hatch suggested the PCLOB exceeded its mission by weighing in on the legality of the NSA program. The board should stick to making policy recommendations, he said. And while the board questioned whether the program is effective in fighting terrorism, Hatch questioned how critics could determine its value by finding "proof that this program alone prevented an actual attack."

"I think we've fallen into a false analysis there," Holder said. "I'm not sure that's the only way by which you can judge the validity or the value of the program. There's a mosaic of things we take into determination."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags U.S. Department of JusticetelecommunicationJeff SessionsU.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance CourtU.S. National Security AgencyEric HolderU.S. Senate Judiciary CommitteeOrrin HatchgovernmentPatrick Leahyprivacysecurity

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?