NSA Collecting Phone Records

AP Photo / Amy Sancetta, File

STATELINE (WIFR) – Whether you like it or not, if you’re a Verizon Wireless customer, the government has likely been looking at your phone records. The government says it’s legal and they’ll keep doing it.

However, the White House says the National Security Agency which is collecting the data isn’t listening in on our conversations, just collected the meta data like phone numbers and the length of calls. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein says the government has been looking at Verizon customer’s records for years and a court just gave the NSA the go-ahead to keep looking at our records for another three months.

Verizon has 121 million customers in the U.S., so there are a lot of opinions. President Obama says this is a critical tool in fighting terrorism, but some say the government is going too far.

“I’m all about preventing terrorism and there are a lot of bad things going on lately, but I think that’s pushing it a little,” said Halina Cox.
“I don’t mind. I don’t do anything illegal on the phone or whatever, so it’s find for me,” said Alfredo Rodriguez.

This all falls under the Patriot Act which Congress passed shortly after 9/11. The White House says it’s important to collect that information to see if Americans are in contact with terrorist groups. Senator Dick Durbin says the Government is walking a fine line between keeping Americans safe and compromising our freedom.

“I’ve offered amendments in committee and on the floor. I’ve been restrained many times because it’s classified information. Some of us have been briefed on it and know a little more about the background than others, but I continue to believe that’s the bottom line. We want a safe nation. We want a safe and secure nation. We want to balance that with the basic rights and privacy of American citizens,” said Senator Dick Durbin.

Verizon sent a note to its employees yesterday saying it safeguards its customers privacy but said if Verizon is ordered to provide information to the government, it would.

If the NSA does find something in the phone records that looks suspicious, then they go to the National Security Court and ask to look more closely into that person, which could mean actually listening in on phone calls.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Critics are describing it as a huge government over-reach. They're reacting to news that the government has been secretly collecting the phone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top-secret court order.

The activity was first reported by the British newspaper The Guardian. And now, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- Dianne Feinstein of California -- is confirming that the court order is a three-month renewal of an ongoing practice.

In fact, a U.S. official says 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.

The Obama administration isn't confirming the collection of phone records, but it's defending the need of the National Security Agency to collect phone records of U.S. citizens.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon -- a frequent critic of government actions dealing with Americans' privacy -- says the administration should disclose the facts.

And 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?"

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