U.S. Government Defends Secretly Collecting Phone Call Records

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Mike O'Brien

The Obama administration admitted on Thursday that it is collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers.

The admission follows a shocking report in the Guardian in which the newspaper published on its website a top secret court order forcing the U.S. carrier to hand over its data.

A senior administration official said the demand was in the interests of national safety and claimed the order only requires telephone numbers and length of calls and not the identity of callers.

The order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25. It expires on July 19.

It directs Verizon's Business Network Services Inc. to hand over daily electronic data to the National Security Agency.

The official said: ""It allows counter-terrorism 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."

He added that such information is "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States," Reuters reports.

The revelation comes amid criticism of President Obama’s handling of privacy matters, including a check on the phone calls of Associated Press staffers and emails at Fox News.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has come under attack and there have been rumors swirling in D.C. that the White House wants him to resign.

Verizon has so far not commented on the issue and it has yet to be established whether other major carriers such as AT&T are involved.

It remains unclear whether the practice extends to other carriers.

The order, which covers both domestic and international calls, was issued one week after U.S. law enforcement officials tracked down the two brothers suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing.

The 2001 U.S. Patriot Act allows the FBI to seek an order to obtain "any tangible thing," including business records, to gather intelligence.

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