It's not just Verizon customers who face government surveillance: The NSA has also been keeping track of phone records from the other two biggest phone networks, AT&T and Sprint Nextel, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Journal puts it starkly: When most Americans make a call, the NSA knows where and when it occurred, what number was called, and how long the conversation lasted. All three branches of the government have approved the process. On top of that, the agency has tracked credit card usage, insiders say, and it has received information from Internet service providers on user activity from emailing to web-surfing—though it's not clear whether the ISP and credit card data-gathering is still occurring.
The content of emails and phone calls isn't tracked. The Bush administration launched the program, the Journal notes, and the Obama administration has continued it. But it's controlled by a "robust legal regime," says Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, noting that data is "subject to strict restrictions on handling" and the system is reviewed about once every 90 days (Clapper is also defending the PRISM data-gathering program). Officials actually view less than 1% of records, says another official. "We are trying to find a needle in a haystack, and this is the haystack," notes a former top Pentagon official. (Read more NSA stories.)