Feinstein vows to kill Leahy's NSA bill

Two powerful Senate Democrats are poised for a battle over the National Security Agency's surveillance powers.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyData shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse Overnight Defense: Navy won't reinstate fired captain | Dems probe use of federal officers in DC | Air Force appoints woman as top noncommissioned officer MORE (D-Vt.) said he will push legislation to end the NSA's controversial program to collect records on all U.S. phone calls. He argued that the program invades Americans' privacy rights while doing little to thwart terrorist attacks. 

But Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinData shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Bottom line Filibuster reform gains steam with Democrats MORE (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, argued that the phone data program is critical for protecting national security.

ADVERTISEMENT

"I will do everything I can to prevent this program from being canceled," Feinstein said during the hearing.

She suggested that if the program had been in place in 2001, it could have prevented the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She explained that in 2001, intelligence officials had vague fears of an impeding attack but did not have enough information to do anything about it. 

"That can never be allowed to happen in the United States of America again," Feinstein said. 

She acknowledged that leaks about the extent of the NSA's surveillance activities have eroded public trust in the agency, and she said some reforms are needed. 

She is preparing her own legislation that would require more transparency about the NSA's activities but would preserve the NSA's bulk collection of phone data. 

The program collects records, such as phone numbers, call times and call durations, but not the contents of the conversations. 

But Leahy argued that proposals like Feinstein's don't go far enough to protect Americans' privacy.

"Additional transparency and oversight are important," Leahy said. "But I believe we have to do more."

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers to address alarming spike in coronavirus cases Senate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections MORE (R-Utah) echoed Leahy's call to rein in the NSA's phone data collection.

“The Fourth Amendment’s protection against ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ is designed to prevent against precisely the kind of suspicionless fishing expeditions that the government is currently carrying out under its telephony metadata collection program," Lee said.

But Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard Sessions Senate outlook slides for GOP Supreme Court blocks order that relaxed voting restrictions in Alabama Justice Dept. considering replacing outgoing US attorney in Brooklyn with Barr deputy: report MORE (R-Ala.) appeared to side with Feinstein, arguing that people have little privacy interest in their phone records.

"The records are in the possession of the phone company. They're the phone companies' records — they're not your personal records," Sessions said.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE (R-S.C.) also expressed concern that ending the program would be a return to a "pre-9/11 mentality."