Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo was asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee about a prior op-ed he wrote, pushing for the creation of a new dragnet surveillance program, including “lifestyle information.”
Rep. Pompeo, who is being tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to be the next CIA Director, said he had “not changed his mind” in regards to his advocacy for building a domestic intelligence database comprised of publicly available information—far broader than the now-shuttered phone metadata program revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013.
“I still continue to stand behind the commitment to keep America safe,” Pompeo told Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Thursday, when pressed to answer questions about the column, at his confirmation hearing. Pompeo admitted, however, that due to current legal restrictions, setting up such a program would be illegal.
“The American people demand if there is publicly available information,” he continued, “I think we have an obligation to use that information to keep Americans safe.”
Pompeo wrote the op-ed for the The Wall Street Journal, in January 2016, calling on congress to “pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.”
He added that “legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”
The piece was published following high-profile terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.
In a questionnaire from the intelligence committee dated January 3, Pompeo was asked to explain his current position on that op-ed. In response, he promoted the usefulness of metadata, describing it as “a significant tool for the Intelligence Community that is no longer available.”
The phone metadata program was reconfigured in 2015 following the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which Pompeo himself supported.
On Thursday, Wyden grilled Pompeo about how his Wall Street Journal musings could be reconciled with that vote.
“You wrote this op-ed since the passage of the law. So after the law passed you said, ‘let’s get back in the business of collecting all of this metadata,” Wyden charged. He added that would mean that the US government would once again be “collecting millions and millions of phone records on law-abiding people.”
Wyden also took offense to Pompeo’s suggestion, that mass surveillance was needed–or even useful–in the context of ensuring public safety.
“That’s not what we’re talking about here,” Wyden said. “We’re talking about your interest in setting up a whole new metadata collection program which is far more sweeping that anything Congress has been looking at.”
Wyden went on to ask Pompeo to provide written answer for the record about if he believed there should be any limits on the sorts of metadata collected in this hypothetical database.
Pompeo has served in Congress since 2011, representing Kansas’ 4th district. In that capacity, he has also been a member of the House Intelligence Committee.