Holder Testifies on NSA
Collection of Verizon Phone Records
June 06, 2013
before a previously scheduled Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing
on the Justice Department's budget, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on
Thursday was met with questions regarding Wednesday's report by
Britain's Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency has been
secretly collecting phone records of tens of millions of Americans who
use Verizon as their landline or cell phone carrier.
Holder said Congressional legislators had been fully briefed on the
intelligence-gathering operation, but that it would be inappropriate for
him to say anything more in a public forum about the program.
The Court Order
Requires Verizon to
provide daily call detail records until July 19,
telephone numbers, calling card numbers, time
and duration of call
Does not include
substantive content of communications
Covers domestic US
calls and calls between the U.S. and abroad
Does not cover calls
within foreign countries
administration has come under fire in the wake of the British paper's
report that the move was authorized by the secret Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court as part of ongoing federal counter-terrorism
activities. The information gathered reportedly included phone numbers
of both parties on a call as well as time, date, duration and location
The order from the government’s special surveillance court did not cover
actually listening in on the calls or their content, according to the
“Whoever was running this program knows they really screwed up," said
Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk as he questioned Holder. "I would
just ask that you kind of seize the records and not allow the
destruction of evidence that they have accidentally monitored other
branches of the government."
“Well, as I said, I would be more than glad to discuss this in an
appropriate setting,” the attorney general replied, expressing agreement
with some of the committee members that a closed hearing should be held
to discuss the issue since it involved national security concerns.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan said
similar data-mining efforts have proven to be effective in the past.
"Within the last few years this program was used to stop a terrorist
attack in the United States," he said. "We know that."
But revelations about the program sparked outrage among many civil
liberties advocates. Elizabeth Goitein, Co-Director of the Liberty and
National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a New
York-based non-partisan think tank, said clandestine collection of phone
records on such a massive scale is an abuse of power.
“There is simply no way that those are all relevant or necessary to an
authorized investigation, so it’s too broad," she said. "The power is
already very broad in the statute and it’s being exercised in a way that
is simply too broad for legitimate counter-terrorism purposes.”
Jim Harper, an information policy expert with the CATO Institute, a
Washington-based libertarian think tank, says broad information sweeps
like the one reported are not always an effective counter-terrorism
“The use of all Verizon phone records in the United States to search for
terrorism will fail," he said. "This program is part of an overreaction
to terrorism. It won’t actually find terrorism but ultimately we will
see uses that are quite detrimental to our Fourth Amendment rights and
our privacy — the privacy of all of us, all law-abiding American
confirming the story, a senior Obama administration official on
background defended the practice as part of the provisions of the
Patriot Act, a controversial law passed by Congress after the 2001
terrorist attacks designed to enhance law enforcement investigatory
Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina also defended the phone records
sweep during his questioning of Attorney General Eric Holder at the
"I am a Verizon customer and it doesn’t bother me one bit for the
National Security Agency to have my phone number, because what they are
trying to do is find out what terrorist groups we know about and
individuals and who the hell they are calling," he said.
Some senators said the practice has been ongoing for some time and was
begun under the previous administration of President George W. Bush.