“These programs are immensely valuable,” said Mr. Alexander.
The House hearing was a generally friendly environment for US security officials and appeared to have been arranged to allow the executive branch a chance to reveal a bit more information in response to the Snowden leaks.
One of the NSA programs in question allows the agency to collect the metadata of US phone calls – numbers called and the duration of calls, the sort of information contained in phone bills. This metadata does not contain an individual’s identity, or the location from which calls were made, said Deputy US Attorney General James Cole.
“We don’t get any content,” said Mr. Cole. “This is under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which has been reauthorized twice by Congress."
This collection only occurs pursuant to court orders. Officials need a further individualized, court-approved warrant to look at the data of a particular person. Its use is subject to extensive internal audits, including an annual inspector general report, and is described to Congress, said US officials.