NSA: Surveillance court says no upper limit on phone records collection

The agency intends to collect all US phone records and put them in a searchable database, director Keith Alexander says

A U.S. surveillance court has given the National Security Agency no limit on the number of U.S. telephone records it collects in the name of fighting terrorism, the NSA director said Thursday.

The NSA intends to collect all U.S. telephone records and put them in a searchable "lock box" in the interest of national security, General Keith Alexander, the NSA's director, told U.S. senators.

"There is no upper limit" on NSA telephone records collection, Alexander said. "I believe it is in the nation's best interest to put all the phone records into a lock box that we can search when the nation needs to do it."

Alexander, other intelligence officials and several members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence defended the NSA's data collection and surveillance efforts during a committee hearing.

The NSA collection of U.S. phone records, disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden earlier this year, are "lawful, effective and constitutional," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the committee.

Nevertheless, Feinstein said she's working on a bill that would add transparency to the data collection process at the NSA and the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Some of the provisions she described would reinforce current NSA practices, but the bill would also give the NSA new authority to continue to conduct surveillance on foreign suspects who enter the U.S. while the agency seeks court-ordered warrants.

Alexander, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and some committee members blamed what they called inaccurate media reports on the Snowden leaks for creating an environment of mistrust in the NSA by the general public.

Some media organizations are feeding "raw meat to people who refuse to look at the facts" that the NSA's data collections are legal and protect privacy, said Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican.

"It's very frustrating to know that we have programs that comply with the law, that have been approved by the Congress, that have been approved by the president of the United States, that are saving Americans' lives, and there are efforts to compromise those programs to convince a nontrusting public," Coats said. "Had we not had these programs in place, I'd hate to think of what we'd be talking about" at the hearing.

Clapper agreed with Coats. Intelligence officials are frustrated in their efforts to "counter the popular narrative" about the surveillance programs, he said.

But Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and critic of the NSA programs, pointed his finger back at U.S. intelligence officials. Abuses alleged in the NSA programs were bound to be made public, said Wyden, who introduced legislation Wednesday that would prohibit bulk collection of phone records by the NSA.

"I believe that any government official who thought that the intrusive, constitutionally flawed surveillance system would never be disclosed was ignoring history," Wyden said. "The leadership of your agencies built an intelligence collection system that repeatedly deceived the American people. Time and time again, the American people were told one thing about domestic surveillance in public forums, while government agencies did something else in private."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags privacylegislationU.S. National Security AgencyRon WydenKeith AlexanderDan CoatsJames ClapperDianne FeinsteinU.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?