Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulPaul: 0B Saudi arms deal ‘a travesty’ Senate feels pressure for summer healthcare vote Overnight Defense: Trump budget gets thumbs down from hawks | UK raises threat level after Manchester attack | Paul to force vote on 0B Saudi arms deal MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday called the National Security Agency's (NSA) collection of Verizon customers’ phone records an "astounding assault on the Constitution."[ Watch ]

"After revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted political dissidents and the Department of Justice seized reporters’ phone records, it would appear that this Administration has now sunk to a new low," he said in a statement.

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"If the President and Congress would obey the Fourth Amendment we all swore to uphold, this new shocking revelation that the government is now spying on citizens’ phone data en masse would never have happened," Paul added.

The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday published a copy of a secret court order compelling Verizon to take part in a massive data mining program to help spot suspected terrorists.

The NSA obtained information on phone numbers, the length and location of calls but no data on the content of conversations or messages. The order covered all Verizon calls since April 25, including millions of people not suspected of being involved in terrorism.

The administration on Thursday defended the NSA’s practices, saying it was “critical” to national security efforts.

An administration official said the program helped "discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States."

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said they had been informed of the phone sweeping and that it had been going on since 2007.

“Everyone’s been aware of it for years, every member of the Senate,” said Sen. Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissGOP hopefuls crowd Georgia special race Democrats go for broke in race for Tom Price's seat Spicer: Trump will 'help the team' if needed in Georgia special election MORE (R-Ga.), the ranking Republican on the panel.

Chambliss and Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinFeinstein: Comey memos 'going to be turned over' Judiciary chair may call for meeting with Mueller Dem senators accuse Trump of purposefully holding back information MORE (D-Calif.) also defended the program.

“There have been approximately 100 plots and also arrests made since 2009 by the FBI,” Feinstein said. “Terrorists will come after us if they can, and the only thing we have to deter this is good intelligence.”

Many lawmakers though said they were not aware of the full extent of the NSA’s practices and called on the administration to justify its legal rationale.

Democratic Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyRussia probes in limbo after special prosecutor announcement Special counsel appointment gets bipartisan praise Lawmakers unveil bill to combat Sessions' push for tougher sentences MORE (D) called it an "outrageous breach of Americans' privacy."

Sen. Dean HellerDean HellerNew CBO score triggers backlash Overnight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs 'in the trash' Five takeaways from the CBO healthcare score MORE (R-Nev.), who along with Merkley and Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeSenate feels pressure for summer healthcare vote Overnight Tech: FCC won't fine Colbert over Trump joke | Trump budget slashes science funding | Net neutrality comment period opens Overnight Healthcare: Divisions emerge in Senate over preexisting conditions MORE (R-Utah) backed an amendment requiring the U.S. attorney general to disclose Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) decisions, also criticized the NSA's actions.

"This is yet another example of government overreach that forces the question, ‘What sort of state are we living in?’ There is clearly a glaring difference between what the government is doing and what the American people think they are doing," Heller said.