House Panel Questions Eavesdropping Program
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
T: NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers called the legislation...
SHAPIRO: ...this broken law.
SHAPIRO: While Ken Weinstein of the Justice Department called it...
BLOCK: ...significant step in the right direction.
SHAPIRO: Last month, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told a newspaper that fewer than 100 Americans' phones and e-mails have been tapped. Chairman Conyers wanted to get more specific.
SHAPIRO: Let me put it like this. How many have been overheard? I mean, you've got minimization techniques. You wouldn't have it if somebody wasn't being overheard.
SHAPIRO: McConnell could not tell the chairman exactly how many Americans have been unintentionally overheard.
BLOCK: It's a very small number considering that there are billions of transactions every day. So, we look at it in...
SHAPIRO: Well, would it be asking too much for this committee all cleared for top secret to be given a briefing on it?
BLOCK: Sure. We have to do that.
SHAPIRO: We have to know.
SHAPIRO: Democrats are also worried that the temporary law's broad wording lets the president search Americans' homes and open their mail without a warrant.
T: If we're writing a new law anyway, why not explicitly say that mail and property searches are not allowed without a court order?
SHAPIRO: Those things that you don't think you're authorized to do and aren't seeking authorization to do, we specifically and affirmably indicate, clearly you can't do.
SHAPIRO: The Justice Department's Ken Weinstein was noncommittal.
BLOCK: Perfectly happy to engage with you on that process, and I guess I would just say...
SHAPIRO: A healing process.
BLOCK: In the context, though, of the recognition that there's going to be - there is ample congressional oversight. There's FISA court oversight.
SHAPIRO: National Intelligence Director McConnell recently said each wiretap application takes 200 hours of work. Democrat Jerry Nadler pointed to a recent testimony by the man who runs the Justice Department office in charge of submitting warrant applications.
SHAPIRO: What he was saying is that most of the work that has to be done has to be done whether you need a warrant or not.
SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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