Phone companies remain silent over legality of NSA data collection

Verizon Earns

America's top telecommunications companies are refusing to say whether they accept that the bulk collection of their customers' phone records by the National Security Agency is lawful.

The phone companies are continuing to guard their silence over the controversial gathering of metadata by the NSA, despite the increasingly open approach by those at the center of the bulk surveillance programme. On Tuesday the secretive foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court declassified its legal reasoning for approving the NSA telephone metadata program periodically over the past six years.

Verizon, the telecoms giant that was revealed in June to be under a secret Fisa court order to hand over details of the phone records of millions of its US customers, was one of the firms that declined to answer Guardian questions relating to the legality of the scheme. AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile US also declined to comment.

CenturyLink, a multinational company based in Monroe, Louisiana said: "At CenturyLink, we respect and protect the privacy of our customers and only provide information to the government when required or permitted by law. We do not comment on matters of national security or specific government requests for information."

In its declassified opinion, the Fisa court revealed that no telecoms company has ever challenged the court's order for the bulk collection of phone records. The opinion, written by Judge Claire V Eagan, implied..

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