US government secretly collecting phone records

The US government is secretly collecting records of ordinary Americans' phone calls in an effort to build a database of every call made within the country, an Associated Press report said.

Quoting USA Today, the report said AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth had begun turning over records of tens of millions of their customers' phone calls to the National Security Agency program shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The report said the program did not involve listening to or taping the calls, but tracking which numbers were called by Americans, whether for personal or business calls, local or long distance.

The NSA and the Office of National Intelligence Director were not immediately available for comment, the report said.

The report said NSA was the same spy agency that conducted the controversial domestic eavesdropping program that President Bush himself authorized.

The NSA wanted the database of domestic call records to look for any patterns that might suggest terrorist activity, the newspaper said.

Senior NSA spokesman Don Weber said the agency operated within the law, but would not comment further on its operations, the report said.

Despite participation of some telecom giants in the NSA program, another big telco, Qwest, had refused to turn over its records, citing privacy and legal concerns, the report said.