An Administration White Paper released by the White House on Friday outlined the basis for bulk collection of Americans' phone records.
It made the following points:
The information, technically known as "telephony metadata," includes the numbers dialed and the date, time and duration of calls. The government may not collect the content of any call, or the names and addresses of any party to the call.
The program does not violate the Fourth Amendment because the Supreme Court has held that participants in telephone calls "lack any reasonable expectation of privacy" regarding the numbers dialed.
The program, first authorized in 2006, has been renewed 34 times by judges in a secret court established under provisions of the USA Patriot Act.
The telephone data is "important to the government" because it provides a way of determining "whether known or suspected terrorist operatives have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities."
Information on the telephone data collection was "made available to all members of Congress," and that Congress subsequently reauthorized the program.
The telephone data was queried by National Security Agency analysts for possible evidence of terrorist activity fewer than 300 times last year. The "vast majority" of the data is "never seen by any person."
— Guy Kovner