House Speaker John A. Boehner on Thursday called on the Obama administration to provide answers regarding a government-sponsored surveillance program of U.S. telephone customers, even though Congress apparently has received frequent updates on the secret probe.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday that the U.S. National Security Agency currently is collecting telephone records of tens of millions of U.S. Verizon customers under an order granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Mr. Boehner, at his weekly news conference at the Capitol, told reporters the probe raises “public policy and civil liberties concerns” and asked President Obama to “explain to the American people why the administration considers this a critical tool in protecting our nation from the threats of a terrorist attack.”
But Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee told reporters Thursday they’ve long known about the program and that NSA’s collection of Verizon records is nothing unusual.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. also told a Senate committee Thursday that the administration has regularly briefed Capitol Hill lawmakers about the program.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was approved by Congress as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978, which was amended under the Patriot Act — a controversial law enacted in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Mr. Boehner said that while the Patriot Act passed the House and Senate with large bipartisan support, “the tools were given to the administration, and it’s the administration’s responsibility to outline what these tools are and how they’re being used.”