The information collected by the NSA, known as “metadata,” does not include the content of the phone calls or the names of the people associated with the accounts. But it does tell the government when calls were made, what numbers were dialed, and the location and duration of those calls. Current and former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the longstanding program to collect metadata from American telecommunications and Internet companies tell The Daily Beast that, in a few discreet cases, the NSA has shared unedited analysis of these records with its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
Late Thursday, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, issued a statement defending the government's collection of phone records, which he said protected the privacy of most Americans. For example, Clapper said only specially trained personnel could access the vast database of metadata collected by the government. A secret body known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court reviews the program every 90 days and only allows the government to query the database "when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization."
Clapper was responding to an article The Guardian published Wednesday based on a secret court order that demanded Verizon Business Network Services Inc. hand over to the federal government all “metadata” from its customers between April 25 and July 19. On Thursday the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees said the program had been in place since 2006, and the court order disclosed by The Guardian was a routine request by the government for the caller records. The Washington Post on Thursday disclosed that the NSA has also run a separate monitoring program to tap directly into the servers of nine U.S. Internet companies to extract information from users, ranging from video and audio files to emails.
With advances in computer science, intelligence services can now mine vast amounts of data collected by telecom companies, Internet service providers, and social-media sites for patterns that can illuminate terrorist networks and help solve crimes. Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told reporters that he knew of one instance where theNSA metadata program thwarted a domestic terrorist attack.
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