WASHINGTON (AP) - The government is secretly collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top-secret court order, according to the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Obama administration is defending the National Security Agency's need to collect such records, but critics are calling it a huge over-reach.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters today that the court order for telephone records, first disclosed by The Guardian newspaper in Britain, was a three-month renewal of an ongoing practice.
"I think people want the homeland kept safe to the extent we can," Feinstein said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "We want to protect these privacy rights. That's why this is carefully done in federal court with federal judges who sit 24/7 who review these requests."
The disclosure raised a number of questions: What is the government looking for? Are other big telephone companies under similar orders to turn over information? How is the information used and how long are the records kept?
The sweeping roundup of U.S. phone records has been going on for years and was a key part of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program, according to a U.S. official.
The White House had no immediate on-the-record comment. Attorney General Eric Holder sidestepped questions about the issue during an appearance before a Senate subcommittee, offering instead to discuss it at a classified session that several senators said they would arrange.