White House Defends Phone Record Collection; Lawmakers Divided
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration and some leading members of Congress are defending the government's practice of collecting the phone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon.
Lawmakers say it's been done for about seven years. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein says it's part of the effort to protect against terrorist attacks, and that federal judges help protect privacy rights. And Republican congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan says the search of phone records had, in fact, prevented a terror attack in recent years.
But others in both parties say it's a huge over-reach for the government to have millions of phone records checked. Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders calls it "indefensible and unacceptable."
Former Vice President Al Gore tweeted that privacy is essential in the digital era. He wrote, "Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?"
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the court order allows the intelligence community to know when terrorists or suspected terrorists are engaging in dangerous activities. He says that's particularly true for people located in the U.S. He says the order doesn't allow the government to listen in on calls.
The Washington Post reported that the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a program tapping directly into central servers of nine leading Internet companies. They are accused of taking audio, videos, and photos that help track a person's movements and contacts over time. Most of the firms, like Google and Facebook, deny the report.
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