The White House is defending Thursday the secret collecting of phone records for millions of Verizon customers by the National Security Agency. The action was necessary, officials argue, to track terrorists, and it was approved by both federal judges and Congress.
Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian first broke the story Wednesday night. Verizon received a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 to turn over the phone records of its U.S. customers for a three-month period ending on July 19. The Guardian obtained a copy of the secret court order and posted it to its website.
The phone records do not include the content of any of the messages, but would include the time, duration and location of phone calls, as well as the numbers of both parties on the call.
Large-scale collection of phone records was known to have occurred during the administration of President Barack Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, but this is the first time such an activity has been revealed under the Obama administration.
The revelation comes at a time when the White House is already under fire for an operation in which the Justice Department secretly obtained thousands of phone records from Associated Press reporters.
The court order is a vital tool in its effort to catch terrorists, a senior administration official said Thursday morning, according to Politico. He also said that the order had the approval of "all three branches of government."
"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," the unnamed official said.
There is no indication of what the NSA was investigating or if it is related to information gathered after the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred on April 15, ten days prior to the court order.