US collecting phone records of millions of Americans, White House defends action

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June 6, 2013

The White House has defended the government's need to collect telephone records of American citizens, calling such information "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats".

June 6, 2013

The White House has defended the government's need to collect telephone records of American citizens, calling such information "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats".

WASHINGTON: The White House defended the government's need to collect telephone records of American citizens, calling such information "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats", after a British newspaper reported that the United States has been collecting the telephone records of millions of Americans under a top secret court order.

While defending the practice, a senior Obama administration official did not confirm the report on Wednesday in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The order was granted by the secret foreign intelligence surveillance court on April 25 and is good until July 19, the newspaper reported. The order requires Verizon, one of America's largest telecommunications companies, on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the national security agency information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The newspaper said the document, a copy of which it had obtained, shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens were being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing.

AP could not authenticate the order because documents from the court are classified.

The administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to publicly discuss classified matters.

Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said on Wednesday that the company had no comment. The NSA had no immediate comment.

Verizon Communications Inc listed 121 million customers in its first-quarter earnings report this April — 98.9 million wireless customers, 11.7 million residential phone lines and about 10 million commercial lines. The court order didn't specify which type of phone customers' records were being tracked.

Under the terms of the order, the phone numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as are location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered, Guardian said.

The administration official said, "On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone's telephone calls."

The broad, unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is unusual. FISA court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets. NSA warrantless wiretapping during the George W Bush administration after the September 11, 2001, attacks was very controversial.

The secret court order, signed by judge Roger Vinson, compelled Verizon to provide the NSA with electronic copies of "all call detail records or telephony metadata created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad" or "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls," Guardian said.

The law on which the order explicitly relies is the "business records" provision of the USA Patriot Act.


Courtesy: AP