WASHINGTON – Six weeks after a leaked document exposed the scope of the government's surveillance of Americans' phone records, many Democrats and some Republicans are still angry about it.
On Wednesday, key administration figures from the intelligence world will appear before the House Judiciary Committee to answer another round of questions.
The questioners include Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the Republican who sponsored the USA Patriot Act, which governs the collection of phone records. Sensenbrenner has said he was "extremely troubled" by the administration's legal interpretation that permitted the government to gather hundreds of millions of Americans' phone records.
Shortly after the surveillance was revealed, Rep. John Conyers, the panel's ranking Democrat, said he feared "that we are on the verge of becoming a surveillance state."
"Over the past decade — under the leadership of four chairman with diverse political views — the members of this committee have vigorously debated the proper balance between our safety and our constitutional right to privacy," Conyers said in remarks prepared for Wednesday's hearing. "We never — at any point during this debate — approved the type of unchecked, sweeping surveillance of United States citizens employed by our government in the name of fighting the war on terrorism."
Those facing the committee will include Deputy Attorney General James Cole and National Security Agency deputy director John C. Inglis. The others testifying on behalf of the administration are Robert S. Litt, general counsel in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, and Stephanie Douglas, executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch.
Members on both sides of the aisle are likely to look for clear answers on why, in the Obama administration's view, the gathering of all phone records is lawful.
The committee also will hear from administration critics, among them Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union. Jaffer, the group's deputy legal director, said in testimony prepared for Wednesday's hearing that excessive secrecy on surveillance issues "has made congressional oversight difficult and public oversight impossible."
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said in prepared testimony that the "massive" collection of information on Americans is unprecedented and that the surveillance of Americans "poses a significant and perhaps unprecedented challenge to our system of constitutional checks and balances."