Feinstein: Metadata program here to stay

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) predicted Sunday that lawmakers who favored shutting down the bulk collection of telephone metadata would not be successful in their efforts as Congress weighs potential reforms to the nation’s controversial intelligence programs.

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“I don’t believe so,” Feinstein said during an appearance on NBC's “Meet the Press.” “The president has very clearly said that he wants to keep the capability… So I think we would agree with him. I know a dominant majority of the — everybody, virtually, except two or three, on the Senate Intelligence Committee would agree with that.”

On Friday, the president announced a series of modest reforms to the top-secret surveillance programs, including a new requirement mandating intelligence agencies obtain judicial approval before reviewing databases of information about telephone calls.

He also ordered members of his administration to figure out a way to end the federal collection of the phone records, with the data instead likely to be held by telephone companies or a third party.

Feinstein conceded that requirement could prove “a very difficult thing” to work out logistically, because without a centralized database, the efficacy of searches could be eroded.

“Because the whole purpose of this program is to provide instantaneous information, to be able to disrupt any plot that may be taking place,” Feinstein said.

The California lawmaker added that the government’s collection of data was similar to that done by private companies, and said critics of the program underestimated the potential risks of handicapping American intelligence operations.

“A lot of the privacy people, perhaps, don't understand that we still occupy the role of the Great Satan. New bombs are being devised. New terrorists are emerging, new groups, actually, a new level of viciousness,” Feinstein said. “We need to be prepared. I think we need to do it in a way that respects people's privacy rights.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rodgers (R-Mich.) called the speech a “victory” and applauded the president for mostly endorsing the need for the spy programs.

“The most important victory was the president standing up and saying, ‘Hey, the program did not have abuses. This wasn't sinister. It wasn't a rogue agency. It was legal and proper,’” Rodgers said.