White House: NSA phone records a ‘critical tool’

In this Dec. 8, 2005, file photo, a man walks out the Verizon's new corporate headquarters.The Obama administration on Thursday, June 6, 2013, defended the government's need to collect telephone records of American citizens, calling such information "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats." Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that the NSA has been collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers under a top secret court order. (AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh, File)
In this Dec. 8, 2005, file photo, a man walks out the Verizon's new corporate headquarters.The Obama administration on Thursday, June 6, 2013, defended the government's need to collect telephone records of American citizens, calling such information "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats." Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that the NSA has been collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers under a top secret court order. (AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh, File)

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (AP) — The White House says a court order allowing the government to secretly collect millions of U.S. citizens’ telephone records is a critical tool to fight security threats.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says he can’t discuss classified information. But he says the court order in question allows the intelligence community to know when terrorists or suspected terrorists are engaging in dangerous activities. He says that’s particularly true for people located in the U.S.

He says the order doesn’t allow the government to listen in on calls, but only includes details like telephone numbers.

Earnest says there’s a robust legal regime overseeing the program and that Congress has been fully briefed.

Disclosure of the phone records was first reported by The Guardian newspaper and confirmed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

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