Today members of Congress said that they never imagined that the National Security Agency would pick up and record millions of Americans’ phone records. They threatened the government’s surveillance authority in a heated confrontation over the limits of domestic surveillance.
This was a heated public debate that took place on Capitol Hill. President Obama assured Congress that civil liberties would be preserved and retained. The debate proved that Congress themselves hadn’t realized the fast expansion of the power that the NSA reserved over the past 6 years.
The most intense moments came when Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told Deputy Attorney General James Cole that Congress only meant to authorize seizures of information directly relevant to national security investigations. It never expected the government to take everybody’s records and store them in a huge database to search later.
Attorney General James Cole took time to explain why the means were necessary, but he was interrupted by Congressman Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who reminded him that the surveillance authority expires in 2015. “Unless you realize you’ve got a problem, that is not going to be renewed. “
Congressman Poe of Texas likened the eavesdropping to the customs of the old Soviet Union. “The actions of the citizens were constantly under surveillance by the government,” he said. “Anything that was done, the government would say, we’re doing this for national security reasons.”
According to FindLaw.com, Wednesday’s hearings cast doubt that Congress fully understood the authorities it had granted several times since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union testified that surveillance issues were under excessive secrecy that has made congressional oversight difficult and public oversight impossible.
The administration holds that its means are used to prevent terrorism. Whatever public flak comes its way has been deflected to a lack of congressional oversight. President Obama released the statement, “when it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program.” Oddly, they all seemed to have forgotten about that, especially when their constituents seem angry.