Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSarah Sanders: ‘Democrats are losing their war against women in the Trump administration’ Kentucky Dems look to vault themselves in deep-red district Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Haspel as CIA chief | Trump offers Kim 'protections' if he gives up nukes | Dem amendments target Trump military parade 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 ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ga.), the ranking Republican on the panel.

Chambliss and Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDOJ, Trump reach deal on expanded Russia review Congress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer Overnight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus 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 MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyHillicon Valley: Facebook, Google struggle to block terrorist content | Cambridge Analytica declares bankruptcy in US | Company exposed phone location data | Apple starts paying back taxes to Ireland Overnight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus Watchdog to probe EPA email preservation MORE (D) called it an "outrageous breach of Americans' privacy."

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerKennedy retirement rumors shift into overdrive McConnell: Midterms will be 'very challenging' for GOP Singer Jason Mraz: Too much political 'combat' in Washington MORE (R-Nev.), who along with Merkley and Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Senate panel advances Trump's CIA nominee Doug Jones to oppose Haspel as CIA chief 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.