The administration of US President Barack Obama on Wednesday declassified a court order authorizing the collection of US telephone records, even as it faced new disclosures about the reach of its secret electronic surveillance.
Under mounting pressure from lawmakers, US Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the order spells out how the government can use the data obtained from telecoms such as Verizon.
Cole told senators that the order “provides that the government can search the data only if it has reasonable articulable suspicion that the telephone number being searched is associated with certain terrorist organizations.”
Administration officials confirm that an order to compile telephone metadata was issued to a subsidiary of Verizon Communications in April, the Washington Post reported, but a footnote clarifies that “telephone metadata does not include the substantive content of any communication ... or the name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer.”
The order was among three secret documents declassified by the office of US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, which said Clapper “determined that the release of these documents is in the public interest.”
The move to confront growing opposition to the secret programs came as the administration faced new disclosures from Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor at the center of the controversy.
The latest documents obtained by him and published by the Guardian revealed a secret surveillance system known as XKeyscore that allows US intelligence to monitor “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet.”
The National Security Agency (NSA) in a statement late on Wednesday refuted as false “the implication” that its information collection is “arbitrary and unconstrained,” and said XKeyscore is used as part of the agency’s “lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system.”
Snowden, who is now stranded in the transit area of a Moscow airport, fled the US after downloading NSA files that have formed the basis of one leak after another.