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Challenging, Defending the NSA

National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.
Getty Images
National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

The National Security Agency's domestic wiretapping program and collection of telephone records have sparked a furious debate between those who say they violate civil liberties and those who say it's necessary in the war on terrorism. Below are links to selected transcripts, court filings and statements that highlight some of the key elements of the debate:

Dec. 15, 2005: The New York Times reports that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States without court warrants.

Dec. 17, 2005: In his initial remarks after the Times report, President Bush says the authorization for the NSA to intercept international communications of people with known links to al-Qaida and related groups "is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives."

Jan. 5, 2006: The Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, releases an analysis that finds many of the administration's legal arguments conflict with existing U.S. laws.

Jan. 19, 2006: The Justice Department, in a "white paper" defending the program, says the NSA activities are "constitutionally permissible and fully protective of civil liberties."

Jan. 23, 2006: In an address to the National Press Club, Gen. Michael Hayden, deputy director of national intelligence and a former NSA director, says the program is "targeted and focused."

Jan. 24, 2006: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, speaking at Georgetown University, says the NSA program falls under the resolution approved by Congress that gives the president authority to respond with force to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Jan. 17, 2006: The American Civil Liberties Union files a lawsuit against the NSA, saying the program violates free-speech and privacy rights.

Jan. 31, 2006: The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights group, files a class-action lawsuit against AT&T for allegedly collaborating with the NSA's domestic-surveillance program. The suit charges that the company "violated the law and damaged the fundamental freedoms of the American public."

April 28, 2006: AT&T Corp. moves to dismiss the EFF case, saying it was wrongly sued. "The real dispute is between any actual targets of the Program and the government," the company says.

May 12, 2006: The Justice Department moves to intervene in the AT&T case, saying the case should be dismissed because litigating it "would put at risk the disclosure of privileged national security information."

May 10, 2006: USA Today reports that the NSA has been secretly collecting domestic telephone records using data from the major phone companies. The program does not involve listening to telephone calls.

May, 11, 2006: Responding to the USA Today report, President Bush says, "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al-Qaida and their known affiliates."

May, 11, 2006: In a statement, AT&T cites a "long history of vigorously protecting customer privacy" and an "obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies."

May 12, 2006: In a statement, Verizon says it "does not, and will not, provide any government agency unfettered access to our customer records or provide information to the government under circumstances that would allow a fishing expedition."

May 15, 2006: In a statement, BellSouth says it has no contract with the NSA to provide customer calling information "and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA."

May 16, 2006: In a second statement, Verizon denies reports that it provided the NSA with customer phone records or call data.

May 16, 2006: President Bush says "we do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval and... this government will continue to guard the privacy of the American people. But if al-Qaida is calling into the United States, we want to know, and we want to know why."

NPR's Larry Abramson contributed to this report.

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