In the wake of a bombshell report in the U.K. Guardian claiming the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers in the United States daily — regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing — two Senate Intelligence Committee leaders are seemingly trying to downplay the revelation by claiming that it’s nothing new.
But their admission that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans for seven years may not exactly be a comfort to many.
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) both defended the NSA’s “request” to Verizon for all metadata concerning phone calls made within the United States and from the United States to other countries, the POLITICO reports.
“As far as I know, this is the exact three-month renewal of what has been in place for the past seven years,” Feinstein remarked. “This renewal is carried out by the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] under the business records section of the Patriot Act. Therefore it is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress.”
When asked by the Guardian why why the FBI needed to have such sweeping powers, “Feinstein said it was so that they had access to the phone numbers in case they became terrorist suspects in future,” according to the Guardian’s Dan Roberts.
“It’s to ferret this out before it happens,” she said during her remarks to the press. “It’s called protecting America.”
Chambliss added: “This is nothing new. This has been going on for seven years … every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this. To my knowledge there has not been any citizen who has registered a complaint. It has proved meritorious because we have collected significant information on bad guys, but only on bad guys, over the years.”
Feinstein spoke with reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday after the Obama administration defended the NSA’s “need” to collect the records, according to the Associated Press.
Prior to the conference, it was not known for how long the NSA had been collecting information on Verizon customers.
It is still unclear whether Verizon is the only carrier to be targeted with such an order. The Guardian wrote, however, that “previous reporting has suggested the NSA has collected cell records from all major mobile networks.”