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Backlash under way

Privacy advocates reacted angrily to the news.

University of Notre Dame Law Professor Jimmy Gurulé, a former assistant U.S. Attorney General and former undersecretary for enforcement for the Treasury Department, called the program “deeply disturbing.”

“It strains credulity to believe that there is probable cause to believe that the millions of Americans targeted by the NSA are engaged in international terrorism,” Mr. Gurulé said. “This appears to be an abuse of power that threatens the civil liberties of all Americans. Further, if Congress is aware of these FISA warrants and has failed to act to restrain the NSA’s overreach, it is complicit by omission.”

The White House and some lawmakers said Congress is briefed regularly about such surveillance programs.

“The intelligence community is conducting court-authorized intelligence activities pursuant to a public statute with the knowledge and oversight of Congress and the intelligence community in both houses of Congress,” Mr. Earnest said.

“There is also extensive oversight by the executive branch, including the Department of Justice and relevant agency counsels and inspectors general, as well as annual and semi-annual reports to Congress as required by law.”

But many lawmakers said they are often kept out of the loop on sensitive national security issues.
“This ‘fully brief’ is something that drives us up a wall because often ‘fully briefed’ usually means a group of eight [members of] leadership,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat.

Many expressed outrage at the revelation of the phone seizures.

“If the president and Congress would obey the Fourth Amendment we all swore to uphold, this new shocking revelation that the government is now spying on citizens’ phone data en masse would never have happened,” said Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican.

The White House said Mr. Obama “welcomes” a debate about the trade-offs between national security and civil liberty.

“The close examination of some of these complicated issues could cause people to arrive at differing opinions,” he said. “The president welcomes that debate. He has his own ideas, he’s presented them.”

Two weeks ago, in a speech at the National Defense University about the use of drones in the war on terror, Mr. Obama outlined a plan for shifting away from perpetual war with terrorists.

“In the years to come, we will have to keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are,” Mr. Obama said.

“That means reviewing the authorities of law enforcement so we can intercept new types of communication, but also build in privacy protections to prevent abuse.”

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