Lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence committees said on Thursday that they have received classified briefings on the program, which has been going on for years.
House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said in a joint statement that the program tracks "foreign intelligence threats and international terrorists."
A Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court must reauthorize the program every 90 days, they explained.
Rogers and Ruppersberger argued that the program is vital for national security and has thwarted at least one terrorist attack in the United States.
"Understanding the necessity of the public’s trust in our intelligence activities and out of an abundance of caution, the Committee will review this matter to ensure that it too complies with the laws established to protect the American people,” they said.
The program first gained public attention when The Guardian revealed a secret court order on Wednesday evening requiring Verizon to give the NSA and the FBI the phone records of all of its customers — not just those under suspicion of wrongdoing.
The order covers phone numbers, the time and duration of the calls and other identifying information. It does not cover the contents of conversations.
Late-breaking: The NSA and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine U.S. Internet companies, obtaining emails, audio, videos, documents, connection logs and other personal information, according to The Washington Post.
The program, called PRISM, was established in 2007 and is now a leading source of raw material for the NSA, the Post reported.
Participating companies include Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and Skype.
"Its history, in which President Obama presided over 'exponential growth' in a program that candidate Obama criticized, shows how fundamentally surveillance law and practice have shifted away from individual suspicion in favor of systematic, mass collection techniques," the Post wrote.
The revelation is likely to prompt more calls for scrutiny of the government's surveillance efforts.
Lawmakers target foreign hackers: House and Senate lawmakers announced legislation on Thursday to combat foreign nations that hack U.S. computer systems
The Cyber Economic Espionage Accountability Act, H.R. 2281, calls on the Justice Department to bring more cyber espionage cases against foreign actors. The bill would also the U.S. to bar foreigners participating in cyber crime from entering the country, and allow the government to revoke visas of foreigners involved in cyber crime.
The bill was introduced by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes Internal poll shows Barnes with 29-point lead in Wisconsin Democratic Senate primary Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate facing 4 felony charges MORE (R-Wis.).
“This is a vital step to let China know that there are real consequences to stealing American intellectual property and robbing U.S. ingenuity and innovation in order to gain competitive advantage,” Rogers said.
FCC backs Obama call for faster school Internet: The Democratic members of the Federal Communications Commission announced their support for President Obama's initiative to provide faster broadband Internet access in schools.
In a speech in North Carolina on Thursday, Obama called on the FCC to expand its E-Rate program to provide 99 percent of schools with at least a 100 megabit connection.
Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn applauded the president for his "bold vision," and said she looks forward to "working with my fellow Commissioners and the many stakeholders as we answer the president’s call to modernize this vital program.”
“For America to compete in the 21st century, we need to make sure all of our children and their teachers have access to the best learning technology," she said.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the president's initiative has her "wholehearted and enthusiastic support.”
“Access to adequate broadband capacity to our schools and libraries is not a luxury — it’s a necessity for America’s next generation of students to be able to compete," she said in a statement. "It is time to answer the President’s call to upgrade the E-Rate program for the 21st Century."
The announcement also drew praise from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerHumorless politics a sad sign of our times Bottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease MORE (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), two longtime champions of E-Rate.
"Today, I join the President and renew my call on the FCC to fund and adapt E-Rate to meet the needs of a data-driven society," Rockfeller said. “Within this decade, every school in America should have 1 Gigabit of connectivity."
Eshoo said she "wholeheartedly" supported the initiative.
“To enable a 21st century digital classroom, supported by high-definition video, cloud-based services and other advanced applications, we need bandwidth — and lots of it," she said.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Obama bill would have made Verizon order illegal: President Obama co-sponsored legislation when he was a member of the Senate that would have banned the mass collection of phone records that his administration is now engaged in.
The SAFE Act, introduced by former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), would have amended the Patriot Act to require that the government have "specific and articulable facts" to show that a person is an "agent of a foreign power" before seizing their phone records.
Administration defends surveillance program: The Obama administration on Thursday defended the National Security Agency’s use of a secret court order to collect telephone records from millions of Verizon customers.
Obama touts plan for Internet in schools: President Obama on Thursday announced a new initiative designed to bring high-speed Internet access to public schools all across the country.
"In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why wouldn't we have it in our schools?" Obama said. "Why wouldn't we have it available for our children's education?"
Lofgren pushes for unlocking bill: Legislation backed by the wireless industry that would allow consumers to “unlock” their cellphones doesn’t go far enough to remove the threat of criminal penalties, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said Thursday.
King offers online gambling bill: Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) introduced legislation on Thursday that would legalize online gambling. The Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act of 2013 would establish a federal regulatory regime for online gaming. It would let states like New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada that have already legalized Internet gambling in some form to continue to do so.
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