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 Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityDianne FeinsteinRon WydenKeith AlexanderU.S. National Security AgencyJames ClapperU.S. Senate Select Committee on IntelligenceDan Coatslegislationgovernmentprivacy

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

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

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?