White House Official Defends Collection Of Verizon Customer Data As Critical To Fighting Terrorism

Following reports that the National Security Agency has been using a secret court order to collect phone records for millions of Verizon customers, the Obama administration has had to come out in defense of the controversial practice, while the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee says this practice has actually been going on since 2006.

The Guardian was the first to report that the NSA had obtained a court order [full text] in April of this year that requires Verizon to provide information on an “ongoing, daily basis” about all telephone calls in its systems. Since the vast majority of Verizon customers are not terrorists, this means that the NSA is using the warrant to collect info without regard to their being a suspect or being tied to any illegal activity. The warrant has an end date of July 19, says The Guardian.

Info handed over to the NSA includes the numbers of both parties on a call, location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls.

So what you’re talking about isn’t included, but who, where, and for how long is covered.

Because all of this info is considered metadata, the NSA did not need to seek out individual warrants but could request a blanket warrant that covers the entire customer base.

Obviously, and for good reason, this has a lot of people unhappy.

In response, a White House official tried to defend the NSA’s action without actually confirming it is going on, telling the Wall Street Journal, the collected data “allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”

The Journal has also reportedly seen an internal Verizon memo from Tuesday where the company’s general counsel states that employees must comply with warrant requests.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, who heads up the Senate Intelligence Committee tried to downplay the issue, telling The Guardian that this is old news.

“As far as I know, this is the exact three-month renewal of what has been the case for the past seven years. This renewal is carried out by the [foreign intelligence surveillance] court under the business records section of the Patriot Act. Therefore, it is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress.”