WASHINGTON (AP) -- Critics are describing it as a huge government over-reach. They're reacting to news that the government has been secretly collecting the phone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top-secret court order.
The activity was first reported by the British newspaper The Guardian. And now, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- Dianne Feinstein of California -- is confirming that the court order is a three-month renewal of an ongoing practice.
In fact, a U.S. official says the sweeping roundup of U.S. phone records has been going on for years, and was a key part of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program.
The Obama administration isn't confirming the collection of phone records, but it's defending the need of the National Security Agency to collect phone records of U.S. citizens.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon -- a frequent critic of government actions dealing with Americans' privacy -- says the administration should disclose the facts.
And former Vice President Al Gore tweeted that privacy is essential in the digital era. He wrote, "Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?"