(CNN) — Frightening government overreach or valuable law enforcement tool?
That’s the question politicians in Washington, and millions of citizens around the United States, asked Thursday thanks to a jolting report suggesting the government has been collecting millions of Americans’ phone records.
FBI Direct Robert Mueller will be asked about the matter — revealed after a British newspaper, the Guardian, published a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court order that applied to phone data from Verizon — when he appears next week before the House Judiciary Committee. The panel’s chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, issued a statement Thursday saying he was “very concerned that the Department of Justice may have abused the intent of the law, and we will investigate.”
The report will also be the subject of an upcoming classified briefing by Attorney General Eric Holder to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Its chairman, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, is calling for a similar closed-door briefing for the entire U.S. Senate.
When she read the news Thursday morning, the Maryland Democrat said, “It was like, ‘Oh, God, not one more thing … where we’re trying to protect America and then it looks like we’re spying.’”
An author of the Patriot Act — the legislation used to justify the program — added he is “extremely disturbed by what appears to be an overbroad interpretation of the act.”
“These reports are deeply concerning and raise questions about whether our constitutional rights are secure,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, wrote in a letter to Holder.
But not everyone in the nation’s capital is outraged or even concerned. Some say the real travesty would be if the program, which they describe as valuable, is halted.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the Guardian story refers to a “three-month renewal of what has been the case for the past seven years” — so that while the uproar may be new, the program is not. In that time, it’s helped to disrupt “terrorist plots” on U.S. soil, she said.
“It is lawful,” the California Democrat insisted. “It has been briefed by Congress.”
Reps. Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger, the two top Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, both stressed that “this important collection tool does not allow the government to eavesdrop” and that it is routinely reviewed by Congress.
Read more at CNN.
(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/File)