The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, USA Today reported today.
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.
The revelations reveal that despite President Bush's protests about the program being compromised by reporting in the New York Times, the program is actually far, far broader than he admitted.
In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States." As a result, domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were believed to be private.
Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.
Bush addressed the issue although not the USA Today story directly in comments today, News.com reports.
ush said Americans' privacy is "fiercely protected," but did not directly respond to an article published Thursday in USA Today that said the National Security Agency is secretly collecting the phone call records of Americans' domestic calls, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon Communications and BellSouth.
"We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans," Bush said from the White House. "Our efforts are focused on links to al-Qaida and their known affiliates. So far, we've been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil."