“Every time we lose another tool in our toolkit, it raises the risk,” Clapper said on Monday. “If that tool is taken away from us, 215, and some untoward incident happens, which could have been thwarted had we had it, I just hope everyone involved in that decision assumes responsibility.”
If Congress fails to renew the metadata collection program, which is due to expire in June, the intelligence community will still do all it can within the law to protect the United States, Clapper said, adding that it did not hurt to have the program as an insurance policy.
“215 to me is like fire insurance. My house has never burned down, but I buy fire insurance just in case,” Clapper said.
Telephone providers have tried to restrict the program’s scope by trying to shorten the data retention period which, according to Clapper, would lessen the utility of the information considering historical data is critical to discerning patterns.
The controversial 215 metadata collection program is a section of the USA Patriot Act, a law enacted in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that expanded the US government’s powers of surveillance.
US President Barack Obama has proposed that the telephone companies should actually hold the data and the US government would be able to access data only after receiving a court order. However, the president's proposal requires new legislation enacted by Congress.
The telephone metadata collection program was first revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who released secret files proving that US spy agencies like the National Security Agency collect telephone data on US citizens.