A Justice Department prosecutor said Thursday that ordering the immediate end of bulk surveillance of millions of Americans’ phone records would be as hasty as suddenly letting criminals out of prison.

“Public safety should be taken into consideration,” argued DOJ attorney Julia Berman, noting that in a 2011 Supreme Court ruling on prison overcrowding, the state of California was given two years to find a solution and relocate prisoners.

By comparison, she suggested, the six months Congress granted to the National Security Agency to stop indiscriminately collecting data on American phone calls was minimal.

Ending the bulk collection program even a few weeks before the current November 29 deadline would be an imminent risk to national security because it would create a dangerous “intelligence gap” during a period rife with fears of homegrown terrorism, she said.

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