NSA Phone Record Court Order Highlights Privacy Concerns

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The Obama administration spoke out in defense of its phone collection program today, a day after the release of an article in the Guardian which claims the National Security Administration (NSA) collects phone records from Verizon customers. The administration spokesperson said it is part of the government’s larger counterterrorism efforts.

Officials Defend The Surveillance Program

NSA Phone Record Court Order Highlights Privacy Concerns

On Wednesday the Guardian published what was supposed to be a secret court order which authorized federal officials to collect the phone records of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ)’s millions of customers. Privacy experts spoke out against the court order and demanded that the surveillance program be reviewed.

Obama administration officials however, claim that there are strict controls to prevent the program from treading on civil liberties. They also claim that although authorities are collecting phone records, they are not listening to citizens’ phone calls.

Spying Or Preventing A Terrorist Attack?

Michigan Republican Representative Mike Rogers said the program had been used to prevent a “significant” terrorist attack in the U.S. He did not say specifically what kind of attack it was or when this may have happened.

Reuters’ Mark Hosenball and John Whitesides report that a senior Obama administration official who did not want to be identified said the court order that had been published only covered information like phone numbers and call lengths and did not include the identities of the phone subscribers or being allowed to listen to the calls that were being made.

It is unclear if any the phone records belonging to subscribers of other major U.S. phone carriers are also being monitored by the NSA or any other federal authorities, but security experts say it is very likely. The order published by The Guardian covers three months and was issued in April after the Boston Marathon bombing.

Reuters’ sources said the order didn’t have anything to do with that bombing, and the order itself doesn’t say why it was given or if it deals with any particular investigation. It does, however, remind Americans of the controversial domestic surveillance law known as the Patriot Act, which was enacted after the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks.

Verizon’s Comment On The Phone Record Collection

A Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) executive has sent employees a memo discussing the article in the Guardian. The statement was posted on Fox News, and it comes from Verizon EVP Randy Milch.

While Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) did not confirm or deny the story in the Guardian, it did say that it continues to “take steps to safeguard its customers’ privacy.” It also said that if the NSA or any other federal agency did demand to see the phone records from Verizon’s customers, the company “would be required to comply.”

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