July 17, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Conyers: Sweeping surveillance of U.S. citizens to fight terrorism never OK'd

Deputy Attorney General James Cole, left, and Robert S. Litt, general counsel in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, faced questioning Wednesday on domestic spying from members of the House Judiciary Committee. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

dramatic

. Previous debates have been largely theoretical and legalistic, with officials in the Bush and Obama administrations

, knowing that the overwhelming majority of people have no ties to terrorism

— under the leadership of four chairman with diverse political views —prepared for Wednesday’s hearing

He was followed by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who picked up where his colleague left off. The problem, he said, is that the administration considers “everything in the world” relevant to fighting terrorism.

Later, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, asked whether the NSA could build similar databases of everyone’s Internet searches, hotel records and credit card transactions.

Robert S. Litt, general counsel in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, didn’t directly answer, saying it would depend on whether the government believed those records — like phone records — to be relevant to terrorism investigations.

After the phone surveillance became public, Obama assured Americans that Congress was well aware of what was going on.

“When it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program,” he said.

Wednesday the Judiciary Committe, ,, more than a decade after it was authorized

Conyers, the Judiciary Committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of DetroitMichigan, noted that the panel had “primary jurisdiction” over the surveillance laws that were the foundation for the NSA programs. Yet one lawmaker, sensational

Conyers (Win McNamee/Getty Images)