A secret US intelligence court has renewed a surveillance program that orders Verizon to hand over millions of phone records to the government. The program was among those revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The office of National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Friday the program was set to expire but that they had sought and received renewal from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. The secret surveillance program, which has been in place for years, must be renewed every three months.
Clapper's office said in a statement that they were confirming the renewal of the program, the existence of which only became public knowledge after it was leaked last month, in an effort to be more transparent.
Along with Verizon, other major telephone carriers are ordered under the program to provide records of their customers' calls, known as metadata, to the National Security Agency (NSA).
Under a separate program, known as "PRISM," the NSA has the ability to access the data streams of major US companies like Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft and Google, to collect emails, video chats, pictures and more.
The government says the programs only target foreign suspects outside the US, but the documents leaked by Snowden indicate that the data collection goes far beyond the confines the government says it has established.
The information revealed by Snowden has sparked a worldwide debate on privacy and concerns over whether Washington is illegally spying on people both in the US and abroad.
Earlier on Friday, the counsel for the Director of National Intelligence, Robert Litt, reaffirmed the government's position that "these programs are legal" because they're authorized by Congress, the courts and the White House. Litt also said that officials were working to declassify information on the recently-revealed programs.
"One of the hurdles to declassification earlier was that the existence of the programs was classified," Litt said during a question-and-answer after a speech at the Brookings Institution. "It's very hard to think about releasing the opinion that says a particular program is legal if you're not going to disclose what the program is. Now that the program has been declassified we're going back and we're looking at these opinions."
dr/jm (Reuters, AP)