Sparks flew at the House Judiciary Committee hearing today, when the NSA was subject to a bipartisan assault about the NSA surveillance programs and documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Members of Congress threatened to pull funding from the agency saying they never intended the NSA “to build a database of every phone call in America.”
Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-MI) , author of the Patriot Act said that Congress meant only to allow seizures directly relevant to national security investigations. No one expected the government to obtain every phone record and store them in a huge database to search later.
When Deputy Attorney General James Cole attempted to explain, Sensenbrenner cut him off letting him know that his authority expired in 2015. “And unless you realize you’ve got a problem,” Sensenbrenner said, “that is not going to be renewed.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) continued where Sensenbrenner left off asserting that the adminstration believes “everything in the world” is relevant to fighting terrorism.
Rep John Conyers (D-MI) defended the administration saying that the panel had “primary jurisdiction” over the laws that were the foundation of NSA programs. But Rep Ted Poe (R-TX) said that some members would not have known about the NSA’s surveillance without the leaks: “Snowden, I don’t like him at all, but we would never have known what happened if he hadn’t told us.”
More alarming was a newly revealed tactic by former deputy director of the NSA John C. Inglis called the “three hop anlaysis” where the NSA can “look at the phone data of a suspect terrorist, plus the data of all of his contacts, then all of those people’s contacts, and finally, all of those people’s contacts.” If you called 40 people, the government could end up getting records for 2.5 million Americans on an investigation of one individual terrorist.
Inglis disclosed the program, saying there was no evidence of abuse, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) interrupted:
“I said I wasn’t going to yell at you and I’m going to try not to. That’s exactly what the American people are worried about,” he said. “That’s what’s infuriating the American people. They’re understanding that if you collect that amount of data, people can get access to it in ways that can harm them.”
James Cole explained that the government keeps the records for five years because the phone companies do not keep them that long so the NSA needed to build it’s own database.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, asked why the government didn’t simply ask the phone companies to keep their data longer. That way, the government could ask for specific information, rather than collecting information on millions of innocent people.
Inglis said the government was looking into that.