Holder to appear before Senate panel

Anne Wernikoff

Attorney General Eric Holder will be asked to testify later this month about additional reforms to the nation’s surveillance programs, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Sunday.

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In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Leahy said that Holder would appear before the panel on January 29 — one day after the president’s State of the Union address.

“We are going to ask him a lot of questions, because a lot of it was between what he and the head of national intelligence have to work out,” Leahy said. “There’s going to be a lot of questions again from both Republicans and Democrats who are concerned we are going too far in to the privacy of Americans.”

In his speech on U.S. intelligence practices on Friday, President Obama said he would like to address fears about abuse of the massive trove of telephone metadata by ending government collection.

The report prepared by the review panel last month suggested that the records be maintained by telephone companies or a third party. But companies have been resistant to that idea, fearful that it could sour their relationships with customers and prove expensive.

Obama acknowledged any possible solutions “pose difficult problems.”

“Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns,” Obama said. “On the other hand, any third party maintaining a single, consolidated data-base would be carrying out what is essentially a government function but with more expense, more legal ambiguity, potentially less accountability, all of which would have a doubtful impact on public confidence that their privacy is being protected.”

Obama is asking Holder and members of the intelligence community to study the best possible way to end government collection of the metadata while preserving the core functions of the program.

Leahy hinted that the Senate could also move on legislation that would more narrowly tailor what data is collected and maintained by a third party in the future.

“A concern that many have had — and this has united Republicans and Democrats across the political spectrum in the House and the Senate —- is, we've gone too much into Americans' privacy, and we've also reached a point where — if we collect everything, do we have anything?” Leahy said. “As we've found in the past, sometimes we have so much stuff, we don't go through it.”

--This report was updated at 10:30 a.m.