Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said President Obama had made the right decision in upholding the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, but cautioned that some of his proposed changes would be “difficult” to implement.
“What the president has said is that he wanted to maintain the capability of the program,” said Feinstein in an interview which aired Sunday on NBC's “Meet the Press.”
She predicted that efforts to push for further constraints on phone-metadata collection would be unsuccessful, saying that a "dominant majority" of lawmakers supported the program.
"I don't believe so," said Feinstein, when asked if critics of the program would be able to shut it down.
The Senate intelligence chief was joined by her House counterpart, Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who called Obama's decision to continue NSA surveillance of phone metadata an “important” victory.
Feinstein said that the NSA’s surveillance has “not been abused or misused and it has been carried out by very strictly vetted and professional people.”
In a long-awaited address on Friday, Obama said he would allow the NSA to continue accessing phone metadata to root out terror threats.
But the president said that to protect privacy concerns he would ask the Justice Department to provide ideas on how someone other than the government could hold that information. Obama also said the NSA would need a warrant from a secret court before accessing the phone data.
Feinstein said finding a third entity other than the NSA or telecom companies to hold the phone data could be “difficult.”
“The whole purpose of this program is to provide instantaneous information to be able to disrupt any plot that may be taking place,” she warned.
Feinstein said that critics of the surveillance program failed to acknowledge the threats the U.S. still faced.
“I think a lot of the privacy people don’t understand that we still occupy the role of the ‘Great Satan.’ New bombs are being devised, new terrorists are emerging, new groups, a new level of viciousness and I think we need to be prepared and we need to do it in a way that gets the balance right and protects people’s privacy rights,” she said.
Feinstein also said that compared to the amount of private data collected by businesses, the “government does not seem to be a major offender at all.”
The California senator has been a strong defender of the NSA's surveillance programs, unveiled by former government contractor Edward Snowden in a series of leaks of classified information.