National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander said Tuesday that the U.S. government should retain the power to collect phone records in bulk from telecommunications companies, despite a push in Congress to scrap the controversial surveillance program.
Speaking at Cyber 7, a POLITICO cybersecurity event in Washington, D.C., Alexander said it is in the "best interest" of the United States to have the program that lets the NSA gather phone logs, calling it an important counterterrorism tool. Late last month, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the federal government should discontinue the bulk collection of call records, citing privacy concerns.
The phone records repository, which the NSA set up after the attacks of September 11, 2001, can help U.S. authorities identify terrorist threats and prevent attacks, Alexander said. A declassified April 2013 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court "primary order" showed that the NSA had wide-ranging authority to collect customer "metadata" for all Verizon Communications Inc. phone calls under the program.