Attorney General Holder defends legality of surveillance program

McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 29, 2014 

Urban League Voting Rights

Attorney General Eric Holder

MATT ROURKE — AP

Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday aligned himself with the conclusions of judges who found the mass collection of telephone data to be constitutional.

But that legal conclusion, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee, is not the end of the debate over the so-called Section 215 program.

"I believe (the judges) are correct that it is constitutional," Holder said, under questioning by a skeptical committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "The question is, just because we can do something, should we do it?"

Holder said he and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Jr., are now wrestling with the privacy and policy implications, under an order by President Barack Obama to report back with recommendations.

One federal judge, based in Washington, D.C., concluded the bulk metadata collection program was probably unconstitutional, but 15 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges and a New York-based trial judge concluded otherwise.

Fed leading questions by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Holder further rejected the conclusions of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which raised alarms about the bulk collection program.

"I accept as legitimate the concerns they expressed," Holder said, but insisted that "the NSA has acted in a way that's consistent with the law."

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