Senators question recommended changes to NSA surveillance

Members of a review panel say their recommendations would not hurt legitimate terrorism investigations

Recommendations by a presidential panel to overhaul a U.S. National Security Agency phone records collection program could impede efforts to track terrorism suspects, some senators suggested Tuesday.

Some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned the recommendations of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, a panel appointed by President Barack Obama after last year's revelations of bulk data collection and surveillance by the NSA.

"Those of us who see it important to prevent another attack" see value in the phone records program, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told members of the review group. "Do you not see value -- substantial value -- in being able to prevent this attack?"

While critics have questioned the value of the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. phone records, courts have seen value in the program, Feinstein said. Other senators repeated their assertion, along with the panel's, that the phone records program has provided little essential information to terrorism investigators.

The review group sees value in programs that will prevent terrorist attacks on the U.S., said Michael Morell, a member of the panel and former deputy director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. That's one reason why the panel did not recommend that the phone records program be ended, but instead called for major changes, he said.

The recommended changes, including taking the collected phone records out of the hands of the NSA and requiring individual court orders for most searches of the records database, will not "add a substantial burden to the government," Morell said.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, suggested that agencies fighting terrorism shouldn't have to jump through the same legal hoops as other law enforcement agencies. There's a fundamental difference "between fighting a crime and fighting a war," he said.

"We're trying to find a way to fight a war within our values," he said. "This is an unusual situation. There's no capital to conquer, there's no navy to sink, there's no air force to shoot down. We're fighting an ideology."

With many terrorists not afraid of dying, "we've got to hit them before they hit us," Graham added. "Do you agree with me that you don't need a court order to surveil the enemy in a time of war?"

Panel members said their recommendations wouldn't change the NSA's ability to conduct overseas surveillance. And while supporters of the NSA phone records program have defended it by saying it only collects metadata, the panel saw no hard line between the collection of metadata and the collection of call contents, Morell said.

"There is quite a lot of information in metadata," he said. "You can learn an awful lot about the person."

While some committee members questioned the panel's recommendations, other senators defended them.

U.S. residents should have a reasonable expectation that their digital records are private, said Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican.

Many of the rules for the NSA's phone records program are internal operating procedures, Lee said. "What is a policy, which may be followed religiously, could change tomorrow," he said. "We've seen this movie before. We know how it ends. We know that eventually, if that much information remains in the hands of government for that long, it will eventually be abused."

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

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags governmentsecurityprivacylegislationBarack ObamaU.S. Senate Judiciary CommitteeU.S. National Security AgencyMike LeeLindsey GrahamDianne FeinsteinMichael Morell

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


James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >


Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?