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March 5, 2015

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Obama administration defends collecting phone records

The Obama administration on Thursday defended the National Security Agency's need to collect telephone records of U.S. citizens, calling such information "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats."

While defending the practice, a senior administration official did not confirm a newspaper report that the NSA has been collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order.

The order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday. The order requires Verizon, one of the nation's largest telecommunications companies, on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. 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 U.S. citizens were being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing.

The Associated Press could not authenticate the order because documents from the court are classified.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the Obama administration should disclose the facts.

"I think that they have an obligation to respond immediately," said Wyden, a frequent critic of government violations of privacy.

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

Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said Wednesday 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, The 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 9/11 attacks was very controversial.

The FISA 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," The Guardian said.

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


AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report.

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  1. Only an idiot would believe anything this cold hearted socialist says. His Banana Republic is in full swing.

  2. Bob - you don't even know what type of data was collected. Read more instead of walking out on your porch, looking around and creating the Universe all by yourself.

  3. The readers of this article might forget the origins of the laws that allowed this to happen.

    George Bush and those in power when 9/11 happened pushed though the Patriot Act. This gave Government broad powers and gave government carte blanche to do pretty much whatever they wanted to do under the name of protecting America.

    At the time, they said if you didn't support the Patriot Act, you were a terrorist and a traitor to America. Dissenters were shouted down by the right wing as being UnAmerican.

    Throughout his presidency, Bush did much of the same thing that Obama has done here, many times over. This is not a new thing.

    Does this horrify you? Then write your Senator and demand that the Patriot act be rewritten so our freedoms are restored, without hampering anti-terrorist efforts.

  4. Obama doesn't know what the Obama Administration is doing, so Obama isn't responsible for all of the Oppressive and Abusive actions of the Obama Administration.

    The SHEEPLE continue to graze and bleat what Obama orates - blame Bush.

    Really? It's Bush's fault? Obama and his SHEEPLE blame Bush but Obama not only extends Bush's programs, Obama expands Bush's programs to make them more abusive and oppressive--that is not Bush's fault. This is Obama and Obama is responsible for all of the abuses his administration is committing.


  5. @ AMJohnson

    When Bush used the law he was attempting to spy on international communications. At the time the press and the liberals were up in arms screaming it was the end of the world.

    Now Obama renews and expands the law and spies on US Citizens communicating with other US Citizens on US soil. That is totally cool. So much for Obama's outrage for the loss of privacy and lack of due process.

    Bush: Bad!!!
    Obama: Good!!!

  6. The Bush 'Patriot Act' also collected Library information, requiring the name of the person and all the books checked out. The Republicans didn't complain about that. This section was later withdrawn.

    The only privacy granted is that of the audio. Metadata, points of origin and destination, length of call have no connection to conversational secrecy.

    The NSA originated the request and Obama doesn't micromanage or control all agencies.

    When ONE location in the country is continually connecting with another point(s) in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Russia, China or Lebanon the Government MUST know about this. Had the NSA done this before 9/11 those conspirators would have been caught.

    Had the Gov. monitored calls to Russia and Chechnya, the Tsarnaev brothers might have been diverted to jail.

    Congratulations to Obama for protecting America. Good Job Dude!