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Bush defends domestic surveillance amid claims NSA collecting US phone records

[JURIST] US President George W. Bush on Thursday insisted that "the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected" as the government conducts anti-terrorist surveillance in the US. Bush's comments [transcript] were in response to a report [text] in Thursday's USA Today that calling patterns of millions of Americans are being collected and examined [JURIST report] by the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website], but he did not directly confirm or deny the allegations. Bush said:

Today there are new claims about other ways we are tracking down al Qaeda to prevent attacks on America. I want to make some important points about what the government is doing and what the government is not doing.

First, our international activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates. Al Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans. Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. Third, the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat. Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.

We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates. So far we've been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil.

As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy. Our most important job is to protect the American people from another attack, and we will do so within the laws of our country.
Also Thursday, US Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said that he would call on the phone companies [Reuters report] implicated in the USA Today Report - AT&T, Verizon and Bell South - to provide information to the committee on the allegations.

This newest revelation into the NSA's domestic spying program [JURIST news archive] could disrupt Bush's attempt to win confirmation for former NSA director General Michael Hayden [official profile] as the new CIA director, though Hayden has suggested [JURIST report] that he might welcome a modification to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text] to bring the wiretapping surveillance program under its scope of authority. CBS News has more.

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