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Collection of phone records roundly blasted

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 7:03 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee blasted the government's bulk collection of Americans' telephone records on Tuesday and said it's a misuse of authority granted by Congress under the Patriot Act.

“Congress never intended to allow bulk collections,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., author of the 2001 Patriot Act.

Debate is intensifying in Congress over whether to scrap the data collection effort or to modify it. There's widespread skepticism in both parties over President Obama's plans for the program and a desire for Congress to curb the National Security Agency.

“In my district and many others, NSA has become not a three-letter word, but a four-letter word,” Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said at a Tuesday hearing on the surveillance effort.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said Congress needs to end the bulk collection.

“Consensus is growing that it is largely ineffective, inconsistent with our national values and inconsistent with the statute as this committee wrote it,” said Conyers, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

An independent federal privacy board reviewed the spy program and said there is no evidence it had made a real difference in thwarting any terrorist operations.

David Medine, who chairs the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, told the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that the program should come to an end.

“We conclude the benefits of the program are modest at best, and they are outweighed by the privacy and civil liberties consequences,” Medine said.

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