The White House has given its first defense of the collection of domestic telephone data for use by U.S. intelligence agencies, arguing it is "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats."
The comment comes in the wake of a blockbuster leak of a secret court order, which gives the National Security Agency and FBI access to all telephone data - not recordings of calls - but the data involved, from Verizon.
Here is the story this morning from the AP:
The White House 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 Obama 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.
It isn't clear whether Verizon is the only phone company providing such data, but civil liberties groups have long believed it is happening on a widespread scale.