WASHINGTON — The federal government has been secretly collecting information on foreigners overseas for nearly six years from the nation’s largest Internet companies like Google, Facebook and, most recently, Apple, in search of national security threats, the director of national intelligence confirmed Thursday night.
The confirmation of the classified program came just hours after government officials acknowledged a separate seven-year effort to sweep up records of telephone calls inside the United States. Together, the unfolding revelations opened a window into the growth of government surveillance that began under the Bush administration after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has clearly been embraced and even expanded under the Obama administration.
Government officials defended the two surveillance initiatives as authorized under law, known to Congress and necessary to guard the country against terrorist threats. But an array of civil liberties advocates and libertarian conservatives said the disclosures provided the most detailed confirmation yet of what has been long suspected about what the critics call an alarming and ever-widening surveillance state.
The Internet surveillance program collects data from online providers including e-mail, chat services, videos, photos, stored data, file transfers, video conferencing and log-ins, according to classified documents obtained and posted by The Washington Post and then The Guardian on Thursday afternoon.
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