WASHINGTON -- Oregon's U.S. senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley spoke out after a report that the National Security Agency has been collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers under a top-secret court order.
"The American people have a right to know whether their government thinks that the sweeping, dragnet surveillance that has been alleged in this story is allowed under the law and whether it is actually being conducted," said Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence committee.
The order was granted by a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19, Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday. Customers' records were being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing, according to the reports.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence committee, confirmed the report Thursday, telling reporters the recent order is actually a three-month renewal of an ongoing practice.
"This type of secret bulk data collection is an outrageous breach of Americans' privacy," Ore. Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a statement. "Can the FBI or the NSA really claim that they need data scooped up on tens of millions of Americans?”
Verizon listed 121 million customers in its first-quarter earnings report this this year: 98.9 million wireless customers, 11.7 million residential phone lines and about 10 million commercial lines. The court order didn't specify which type of phone customers' records were being tracked.
The phone numbers of both parties on a call are handed over under the terms of the order, as well as location data, call duration, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered, The Guardian reported.
"I believe that when law-abiding Americans call their friends, who they call, when they call, and where they call from is private information," Wyden added. "Collecting this data about every single phone call that every American makes every day would be a massive invasion of Americans’ privacy."
He said he hopes the report will force a renewed debate about the government’s domestic surveillance authorities.