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NSA spying flap extends to contents of U.S. phone calls | Politics and Law – CNET News

by Declan McCullagh

The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls, a participant said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed on Thursday that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed “simply based on an analyst deciding that.”

If the NSA wants “to listen to the phone,” an analyst’s decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. “I was rather startled,” said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.

Not only does this disclosure shed more light on how the NSA’s formidable eavesdropping apparatus works domestically, it also suggests the Justice Department has secretly interpreted federal surveillance law to permit thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on phone calls.

James Owens, a spokesman for Nadler, provided a statement on Sunday morning, a day after this article was published, saying: “I am pleased that the administration has reiterated that, as I have always believed, the NSA cannot listen to the content of Americans’ phone calls without a specific warrant.” Owens said he couldn’t comment on what assurances from the Obama administration Nadler was referring to, and said Nadler was unavailable for an interview. (CNET had contacted Nadler for comment on Friday.)

Because the same legal standards that apply to phone calls also apply to e-mail messages, text messages, and instant messages, being able to listen to phone calls would mean the NSA analysts could also access the contents of Internet communications without going before a court and seeking approval.

Read the Rest @ NSA spying flap extends to contents of U.S. phone calls | Politics and Law – CNET News.

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