- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lawmakers tackled domestic phone surveillance Sunday, agreeing that more debate is needed on the depth of such data collection and its use.

“We can be safe and protect our civil liberties,” said Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Mr. Udall suggested that the Patriot Act may need to be re-opened. “Let’s have the debate.”

Last week, it was revealed that a classified court order required Verizon to turn over records of all domestic phone calls to the National Security Agency.

This so-called metadata involves computers scouring through raw call data without the use of names or conversation content. If something is flagged, then investigators may choose to go to court to be granted access to more information, such as who made the calls and what was said.

“You can extrapolate” a lot of data using this, Mr. Udall said. “We value our privacy as Americans.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, also supports more discussion of the parameters of obtaining such information, but he doesn’t object to the measures taken so far, saying he is “not really” bothered by the NSA actions.

“Perhaps it’s an overreach,” but we have to find a careful balance, Mr. McCain told CNN.

He also said that if this were Sept. 12, 2001, that we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

“The threat [of terrorism] is growing, not diminishing,” Mr. McCain said.

He also disagreed with comments made earlier by Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, who called the phone-record collection an assault on the Constitution.

When pressed about what’s the harm in gathering this metadata, Mr. Udall stressed that it hasn’t been proved to work and that this is “only another step” toward crossing a line.

He said “it’s the scale” that concerns him and the fact that it was a secret program.

Other lawmakers have said important information was obtained from such data collection, but Mr. Udall dismissed that.

“I’m not convinced. We could have gotten that from other data,” he said.

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