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Ear to the Ground

Secret Court Renews Controversial NSA Surveillance Program

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Posted on Jul 21, 2013
Flickr / HeatedGroundPhotography

A top U.S. intelligence official has confirmed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court on Friday extended the National Security Agency’s authority to gather the telephone metadata of tens of millions of Americans. The order was set to expire the same day the FISA court renewed it.

Extensions of the program have become a routine step that has happened roughly once every three months since the order initially came down, but the admission marks the first time a U.S. official publicly acknowledged what the top secret court did.

“Consistent with his prior declassification decision and in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program, the DNI has decided to declassify and disclose publicly that the Government filed an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking renewal of the authority to collect telephony metadata in bulk, and that the Court renewed that authority,” a statement from the NSA Director’s office read.

The statement continued: “The Administration is undertaking a careful and thorough review of whether and to what extent additional information or documents pertaining to this program may be declassified, consistent with the protection of national security.”

The existence of the spy agency’s secret surveillance program came to light last month after it was exposed in a series of leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The Washington Post:

Snowden provided newspapers with documents describing the NSA’s systematic efforts to collect “metadata” from cellphone records, including phone numbers and information about the time and length of phone calls. Among the documents was an April court order by a FISA judge ordering a Verizon subsidiary to provide the NSA with data on all telephone calls by its customers.

...The statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not mention Verizon or any other telecommunications company by name, only that the government was seeking the “renewal of the authority to collect telephony metadata in bulk, and that the Court renewed that authority.”

NSA and Obama administration officials say the collected information does not include the content of phone calls, and they say that the program is subject to oversight by congressional committees as well as the FISA court. NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, defending the program before a congressional committee, said such data-collection efforts have helped U.S. spy agencies track terrorists and disrupt plots.

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