The bombshell disclosure that the National Security Agency secretly collected millions of Verizon phone records "couldn't have come at a worse time" for Americans who are already worried about government intrusion, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.,says.
"If this was in a time in which nothing else was going on . . . it would be viewed with a different set of lenses," Collins told guest host David Nelson on Newsmax TV's "The Steve Malzberg Show."
"The problem we've got right now is every time you open the paper, turn on the TV, listen to the radio, go to the internet, you're seeing an evolving issue with things in this administration that really dig at the very core of our civil liberties and personal freedom."
Collins was referring to the Justice Department's targeting of journalists from the Associated Press and Fox News, the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, and the allegedly inept handling of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
"In light of these other things that are going on, it makes us hypersensitive to [the National Security Agency case]" he said.
The White House has defended the National Security Agency's programs of collecting phone records, saying it was done to thwart terrorists and was vetted to comply with the Constitution.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters that multiple attempted terrorist attacks inside the United States had been foiled thanks to the agency's program.
But Collins, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said news of the agency's actions — revealed in a report in London's Guardian newspaper — is "very concerning."
"The concern that I have is, are we into the spirit of violating the intent of the Patriot Act and the laws that were passed? Are we pushing the envelope and there just needs to be proper oversight," he said.
"In light of everything that's been done in the last few weeks when you deal with the AP issue, with the Fox News reporter issue, when you deal with Benghazi, when you deal with the IRS probing, it's just another layer in mistrust out there."
Asked by Nelson if the questions raised by the National Security Agency's actions would be moot if they stopped even just one terrorist, Collins replied:
"There is a proper role that we do need to be vigilant in a society in which warfare is asymmetrical. It's no longer one side lining up against another side, drawing the line in the sand and saying let's fight each other.
"It's enemies within and enemies without and that what we can do is to assure the American people that what is happening is protecting personal privacy and civil liberties, [and] at the same time doing what needs to be done to keep us safe."
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