It’s hard to know which is more disconcerting – that the National Security Agency is getting telephone records for millions of Americans via a secret court’s order or that such sweeping intelligence gathering is routine, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The White House hasn’t confirmed the Guardian newspaper’s report that a Verizon subsidiary was ordered in April to provide the NSA with daily information on all calls by its customers within the U.S. and from foreign locations into the U.S. But an anonymous White House official defended the practice Thursday “as a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats.” A dozen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, however, the nation is due for a hard look at the constitutionality and necessity of the USA Patriot Act, under which such snooping is legal. UPDATE: The NSA and the FBI also have been tracking people’s movements and contacts by tapping directly into the servers of nine big Internet companies, the Washington Post reported Thursday. The classified PRISM program began in 2007 and now accounts for 1 in 7 intelligence reports, according to the Post.
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