* NSA collecting records of millions of customers
* Data from carriers "critical" in terror fight -official
* Secret three-month court order published online
By Mark Hosenball and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, June 6 The Obama administration on
Thursday acknowledged that it is collecting a massive amount of
telephone records from at least one carrier, reopening the
debate over privacy even as it defended the practice as
necessary to protect Americans against attack.
The admission comes after the Guardian newspaper published a
secret court order related to the records of millions of Verizon
Communications customers on its website on Wednesday.
A senior administration official did not specifically
confirm the report, but noted the published court order pertains
only to data such as a telephone number or the length of a call,
and not the subscribers' identities or the content of the
The order requires the government to turn over so-called
"metadata" such as a list of numbers that called other U.S. or
international numbers as well as other transactional information
on the time and location of calls.
Such information is "a critical tool in protecting the
nation from terrorist threats to the United States," the
official said, speaking on the condition of not being named.
"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," the official added.
The revelation raises fresh concerns about President Barack
Obama's handling of privacy and free speech issues. His
administration is already under fire for searching Associated
Press journalists' calling records and the emails of a Fox
television reporter as part of its inquiries into leaked
Verizon has declined to comment. It remains unclear clear
whether the practice extends to other carriers.
AT&T Inc had no comment. Representatives for other
major carriers, including Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile
, could not be immediately reached or had no immediate
The three-month court order, dated April 25 and published by
the Guardian on Wednesday, directs Verizon's Business Network
Services Inc and Verizon Business Services units to hand over
daily electronic data until July 19.
It was issued one week after U.S. law enforcement officials
tracked down the two brothers suspected of carrying out the
deadly Boston Marathon bombing. Investigators in that case had
been looking into calls made from their phones and had been
searching for one brother's laptop.
The order expressly compels Verizon to turn over both
international calling records and domestic records, and refers
to mobile and landline numbers, according to the Guardian's
copy, which was labeled "top secret" and issued by the U.S.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The four-page document does not lay out why the order was
given or whether it was linked to any specific investigation.
Thursday's admission highlights U.S. intelligence officials'
ongoing and controversial campaign of domestic surveillance
launched under President George W. Bush's administration in the
wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.
The 2001 U.S. Patriot Act allows the FBI to seek an order to
obtain "any tangible thing," including business records, to
The Obama administration official said that "all three
branches of government are involved in reviewing and authorizing
Still, some lawmakers have expressed growing concern with
broad intelligence gathering methods.
The order can be seen at: