Much of Tuesday's hearing focused on changes in the FISA law, and technical aspects of the government's data collection programs.
Shortly after the NSA's Terrorist Surveillance Program was transferred to the FISA court's jurisdiction in January 2007, a secret order from the court required intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant to intercept foreign-to-foreign communications that were routed on U.S. communication networks.
Given the NSA's ability to collect communications and data from around the world and the Internet, the nation's security officials faced a daunting task. McConnell told the House Judiciary Committee that, in some cases, this meant that the U.S. was required to get a warrant to intercept Iraqi insurgent communications.
He added that the changes made to FISA under the Protect America Act, signed into law in August, provided wider surveillance coverage of terrorism targets by freeing up resources.
Civil liberties groups have long voiced concerns about the changes in the law, and over the NSA program. The Terrorist Surveillance Program had operated covertly until it was revealed in a December 2005 story by the New York Times. A pending leak investigation is underway by the Justice Department over the disclosure.
Congress is currently holding hearings on making changes in the FISA law permanent. At the Tuesday hearing, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said, "The power to invade people's privacy cannot be exercised unchecked."