As Cole explained why that was necessary, Sensenbrenner cut him off and reminded him that his surveillance authority expires in 2015.
"And unless you realize you've got a problem," Sensenbrenner said, "that is not going to be renewed."
He was followed by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who picked up where his colleague left off. The problem, he said, is that the administration considers "everything in the world" relevant to fighting terrorism.
Later, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, asked whether the NSA could build similar databases of everyone's Internet searches, hotel records and credit card transactions.
Robert S. Litt, general counsel in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, didn't directly answer, saying it would depend on whether the government believed those records — like phone records — to be relevant to terrorism investigations.
After the phone surveillance became public, Obama assured Americans that Congress was well aware of what was going on.
"When it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program," he said.
Whether lawmakers willingly kept themselves in the dark or were misled, it was apparent Wednesday that one of the key oversight bodies in Congress remained unclear about the scope of surveillance, more than a decade after it was authorized.
The Judiciary Committee's senior Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, noted that the panel had "primary jurisdiction" over the surveillance laws that were the foundation for the NSA programs. Yet one lawmaker, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, said some members of Congress wouldn't have known about the NSA surveillance without the sensational leaks: "Snowden, I don't like him at all, but we would never have known what happened if he hadn't told us."
Rep Randy Forbes, R-Va., said such a huge database was ripe for government abuse. When National Security Agency deputy director John C. Inglis said there was no evidence of that, Forbes interrupted: