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Feinstein calls on Supreme Court to rule on NSA

Senator Feinstein defends the National Security Agency's data-gathering program, but acknowledges that the program itself is not "indispensible."
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaks to the press at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, June 7, 2012.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaks to the press at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, June 7, 2012.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein defended the National Security Agency's data-gathering program Tuesday even as she acknowledged that the program itself was not "indispensable." 

"This program, in conjunction with other programs, helps keep this nation safe," Feinstein told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "I'm not saying it's indispensable, but I am saying it is important, and it is a major tool in ferreting out a potential terrorist attack." Feinstein also criticized the press for overlooking a court case a month ago, when a judge had upheld the program.

Feinstein also called on the Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutionality of the program. "What many of us want to do, is do what's necessary within the law to keep our nation as safe as we possibly can," she said. "If people really want us to shove aside a potential method of protection, and the court says it is not constitutional, that's it. That's the end."

On Monday a federal judge ruled that the program -- the breadth of which was revealed through leaks facilitated by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden -- was likely unconstitutional. Feinstein has sponsored a bill that would explicitly authorize bulk collection of communications records by the NSA, while her Senate Judiciary Committee counterpart, Patrick Leahy, has proposed outlawing the practice.

On Tuesday, the White House met with represenatives of the major tech companies who issued a statement afterwards saying, "We appreciated the opportunity to share directly with the President our principles on government surveillance that we released last week and we urge him to move aggressively on reform."

In his ruling Monday, judge Richard Leon questioned whether the program was effective in preventing terrorism, adding that the more than 30-year-old legal precedent for gathering metadata was outdated. “The government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack," Leon wrote in the ruling. 

"[Of] course that's wrong, and there have been instances of it," Feinstein countered on-air. "I think those instances have been belittled by and large. There are some 54 instances worldwide; a lot of the information went to countries in Europe."

Leahy has said that the number cited by the NSA -- and which Feinstein was referencing -- is untrue, but the list has not been made public, making the claim difficult to verify independently.

See how other Members of Congress reacted to the NSA ruling below.