Lawmakers of both parties voice doubts about NSA surveillance programs

Washington Post: Cole said the programs are legal and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He also said the programs “achieved the right balance” between protecting Americans’ safety and their privacy.

“Both programs are conducted under laws passed by Congress,” Cole said.

The 11 judges on the secret FISA court that approves surveillance “are far from rubber stamps,” he said. “They don’t sign off until they are satisfied that we have met all statutory and constitutional requirements.”

But some lawmakers were not swayed by Cole’s explanation.

“Could you go to the FISA court and argue that you had a right to obtain an individual’s or every American’s tax return?” asked Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.). “Could you get at somebody’s permanent record from school?”

Cole began, “If it was relevant to the investigation, you could go to the FISA court and ask . . .”

“Could you get somebody’s hotel records?” Farenthold interrupted “Could you get my VISA, MasterCard records? Can you get the GPS data from my phone, too? Do I have a reasonable expectation of privacy in anything but maybe a letter I hand-deliver to my wife” in a sensitive compartmented information facility?

In some of the cases, Cole answered that it would depend on whether it was relevant to a terrorism investigation.

“Snowden, I don’t like him at all,” said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.), “but we would have never known what happened if he hadn’t told us.”

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the committee, said he was surprised that the programs had been kept secret for so long.

“Do you think a program of this magnitude gathering information involving a large number of people involved with telephone companies could be indefinitely kept secret from the American people?” Goodlatte asked.

“Well,” ODNI general counsel Robert S. Litt said with a slight smile, “we tried.”