Following revelations about the federal government’s surveillance programs, FBI Director Robert Mueller defended the government’s collection of millions of U.S. phone records, emails and other information that people transmit online as vital to the nation’s national security.

Mueller told a House Judiciary panel Thursday that law enforcement must stay “a step ahead of criminals and terrorists” while still heeding Americans’ civil liberties.

Early in the hearing, Mueller tried to make the case for the National Security Agency surveillance programs and said that law enforcement “must stay a step ahead of criminals and terrorists” while still heeding the civil liberties of Americans.

Mueller, who is stepping down from his post in September, says that if the metadata collection program had been in place before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, they would have identified one of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego and most likely derailed the plot.

But Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. says he was “not persuaded that the argument makes it OK to collect information on every call,” adding, that by Mueller’s interpretation, it would be “anything and everything goes” situation.

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