DOJ official admits collecting data unrelated to terrorism

The records include the time and duration of calls, as well as the phone numbers involved but not the contents of the conversations. 

“How is having every phone call that I make to my wife, to my daughter relevant to any terror investigation,” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) asked Deputy Attorney General James Cole during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

“I don’t think that they would be relevant, and we would probably not seek to query them because we wouldn’t have the information that we need to make that query,” Cole said.

He explained that, although the NSA acquires millions of phone records, it only accesses that massive database if it has a "reasonable, articulable suspicion that the phone number being searched is associated with certain terrorist organizations."

Only 22 NSA officials are authorized to approve searches of the database.

Cole argued that compiling the phone record database is necessary for tracking terror suspects and their associates. 

"If you're looking for a needle in the haystack you have to have the haystack," he said.

The formal legal opinion concluding that the NSA has the authority under Section 215 to compile all U.S. phone records remains classified.