The National Security Agency has gotten the green light to continue its controversial collection of U.S. phone call records.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorized the program for limited time periods — with a requirement that the government submit new requests every several weeks, The Hill reported Friday
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced the court's approval in a statement
The phone record snooping — first revealed in leaks by Edward Snowden — generated criticism from privacy advocates and some lawmakers, who are concerned the collection affects millions of Americans who aren't suspected of any wrongdoing.
Mark Rumold, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy watchdog group, told The Baltimore Sun
in June NSA's program "targets more people than has ever been issued before, that we have known about publicly, in the history of the United States."
"There has been a significant amount of debate about the subpoenaing of AP reporters' phone records," Rumold said. "This is that on steroids. It's everyone."
The NSA collects records from phone companies — like phone numbers, call times and call durations — of all U.S. calls and then compiles them in a database, though the administration insists it doesn't include any conversations, The Hill reported.
NSA analysts are only allowed to search the database if there is a "reasonable, articulable suspicion," that a phone number is connected to terrorism, The Hill reported.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said the office decided to announce the court decision, which would normally be kept secret, "in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the original author of the Patriot Act, are working on legislation to prohibit NSA's bulk data collection, The Hill's report said.
“While I appreciate the recent efforts by the Court and the administration to be more transparent, it is clear that transparency alone is not enough," Leahy said in an emailed statement to The Hill.
"There is growing bipartisan consensus that the law itself needs to be changed in order to restrict the ability of the government to collect the phone records of millions of law-abiding Americans.”
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