WASHINGTON (WSJ) —The National Security Agency’s monitoring of Americans includes customer records from the three major phone networks as well as emails and Web searches, and the agency also has cataloged credit-card transactions, said people familiar with the agency’s activities.
The disclosure this week of an order by a secret U.S. court for Verizon Communications Inc.’s phone records set off the latest public discussion of the program. But people familiar with the NSA’s operations said the initiative also encompasses phone-call data from AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp., records from Internet-service providers and purchase information from credit-card providers.
The agency is using its secret access to the communications of millions of Americans to target possible terrorists, said people familiar with the effort.
Civil-liberties advocates slammed the NSA’s actions. “The most recent surveillance program is breathtaking. It shows absolutely no effort to narrow or tailor the surveillance of citizens,” said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University.
The arrangement with the country’s three largest phone companies means that every time the majority of Americans makes a call, NSA gets a record of the location, the number called, the time of the call and the length of the conversation, according to people familiar with the matter. The practice, which evolved out of warrantless wiretapping programs begun after 2001, is approved by all three branches of the U.S. government.