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Government Defends Snooping Program

The Obama administration on Thursday called the collection of millions of Verizon customers' telephone records "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats."

Posted on June 6, 2013, at 8:18 a.m. ET

LM Otero / AP

The administration responded Thursday to a report by The Guardian revealing the National Security Agency is currently collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers in the U.S. under a top secret court order issued in April.

The statement from a senior administration official:

The article discusses what purports to be an order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court under a provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that authorizes the production of business records. Orders of the FISA Court are classified. On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the Government to listen in on anyone's telephone calls. The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the name of any subscriber. It relates exclusively to metadata, such as a telephone number or the length of a call.

Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it 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.

As we have publicly stated before, all three branches of government are involved in reviewing and authorizing intelligence collection under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Congress passed that act and is regularly and fully briefed on how it is used, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizes such collection. There is a robust legal regime in place governing all activities conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That regime has been briefed to and approved by the Court. And, activities authorized under the Act are subject to strict controls and procedures under oversight of the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FISA Court, to ensure that they comply with the Constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.

The Guardian obtained a copy of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order that requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls "between the United States and abroad" or "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.