WASHINGTON — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and House Republicans raised doubts Sunday about President Obama’s plan to restrict the federal government's ability to collect data on domestic telephone calls, saying that private phone companies do not want the responsibility and would not be subject to oversight.
"The whole purpose of this program is to provide instantaneous information to be able to disrupt any plot that may be taking place," Feinstein said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the head of the House Homeland Security Committee, also raised doubts about eliminating the National Security Agency's role in collecting so-called metadata, information that shows when calls took place and which numbers were dialed.
“Who has the capability other than NSA to handle that kind of data other than the private phone carriers, and they don’t want it,” McCaul said in an appearance on ABCs “This Week. “
Obama, in a speech Friday, stopped short of calling for turning the job over to private companies. Acknowledging concerns about either the government or private companies holding such data for use in investigations, he called for a public-private panel to review the issue and make recommendations in 70 days.
On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Rogers warned about the possibility of privacy abuses if Congress, the courts and other government agencies are not involved in overseeing the data collection.
“If you move way from the government sector you lose all that review,” said Rogers, adding that phone companies are “there to provide services to their customers, not to the government.”
The comments suggest that Republicans may seek to stand in the way of Obama’s proposal and even block it when the program comes up for reauthorization in Congress next year, despite polls showing widespread public concern about the data collection.
But Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), backed the Obama plan, saying “there have already been abuses” in use of the data by the government. He noted that phone companies already collect the information and would not be likely to use it to invade customer’s privacy.
“They’re not going to use this data in ways that breaks faith with their customers,” he said.
Obama gave the Justice Department and the Director of National Intelligence until March 28 to decide who would hold the telephone data. He left unanswered the question of whether the government would continue to collect the data if no solution is found. Officials said that issue had not yet been decided.
[For the record, 5:10 p.m. Jan. 19: An earlier version of this post said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers was from Mississippi. He is from Michigan.]