Court: NSA can continue sweeping phone data collection (Video)

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has granted the National Security Agency (NSA) permission to continue its collection of records on all U.S. phone calls.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced the court's approval in a statement late Friday. The court authorizes the program for only limited time periods and requires that the government submit new requests every several months for re-authorization.

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The existence of the bulk phone data collection was one of the most controversial revelations from the leaks by Edward Snowden.

The NSA uses the program to collect records such as phone numbers, call times and call durations on all U.S. phone calls—but not the contents of any conversations, according to the administration. 

The NSA collects the records from the phone companies and compiles them in a massive database. NSA analysts are only allowed to search the database if there is a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" that a phone number is connected to terrorism. 

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said the office decided to announce the court decision, which is usually kept secret, "in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program."

Numerous lawmakers have expressed outrage at the NSA's collection of records of millions of Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the original author of the Patriot Act, are working on legislation that would prohibit the NSA from conducting bulk data collection. 

“While I appreciate the recent efforts by the Court and the administration to be more transparent, it is clear that transparency alone is not enough," Leahy said in a statement. "There is growing bipartisan consensus that the law itself needs to be changed in order to restrict the ability of the government to collect the phone records of millions of law-abiding Americans.”

 —Updated at 9:34 p.m.