PHONE SURVEILLANCE: Privacy vs. national security - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

PHONE SURVEILLANCE: Privacy vs. national security

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Like it or not, the government has most likely accessed your phone records. The National Security Agency is secretly collecting the phone records of millions of American AT&T, Sprint and Verizon customers under a top-secret court order.

The Obama administration is defending the program, which began under the Bush administration as part of the Patriot Act, by describing the NSA phone record program a "critical tool" and insisting no calls have ever been monitored.

Even so, the federal government continues to collect metadata from ISP customers -- including the phone numbers of both parties, the location where the call was placed and the length of the call.

The chairman of the House Intelligence committee, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, claimed a domestic terror attack was thwarted because of phone records collection, and Sen. Harry Reid pointed out that the NSA has been collecting such records for some seven years.

The roundup of U.S. phone records was a key part of the Bush administration's surveillance program, according to a U.S. official.

Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders said, "To simply say in a blanket way that millions and millions of Americans are going to have their phone records checked by the U.S. government is, to my mind, indefensible and unacceptable."

Yet, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he had no problem with the court order and the practice, declaring, "If we don't do it, we're crazy. If you're not getting a call from a terrorist organization, you've got nothing to worry about."

Once the government has zeroed in on the numbers it believes are tied to terrorism or foreign governments, it can go back to the court with a wiretap request. That allows the government to monitor the calls in real time, record them and store them indefinitely.

FOX 9 News spoke with Steve Aggergaard, attorney and media litigator, about whether Americans have a reasonable right to privacy when it comes to the data on cell phones. Providers clearly collect the data, so what's the difference if they share it with the government for security reasons? Does it create a slippery slope-- and if so, what's next?

Watch the video for more information.

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