NSA won't abandon phone records program without Congress

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The Obama Administration has ruled out using internal administrative policy to reform controversial federal surveillance programs, a top Justice Department official said.

Officials have not tried to persuade the country’s surveillance court to change its understanding of the law, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and do not plan to replace a National Security Agency (NSA) program with other ways to collect data about Americans.

“We think that our choices at this point really come down to what has been approved by the courts over a number of years, new legislation or else not having the tools at all,” he said.

Attorney General Cole’s statement came in response to a question from Sen Mark Udall (D-CO), a critic of the NSA's surveillance, who claimed that the administration “has the tools it needs” through other methods to protect national security while also not violating their privacy. Opponents of the NSA’s program to collect records about people’s phone calls say that the federal government could abandon the program and use other means, such as national security letters, to collect the data.

“The current law gives the government broad authority right now -- right now-- to obtain records quickly,” Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR), another critic of the government surveillance, told Attorney General Cole. “The fact that this dragnet surveillance is taking place right now is unacceptable to me.”

NSA won't abandon phone records program without Congress