The Obama Administration is not commenting publicly on a story by the British newspaper The Guardian, which outlines a National Security Agency order to collect phone records of millions of Verizon customers in the U.S.
But the White House did defend that kind of action, calling it a "critical tool" in dealing with terrorism.
Others are calling it a violation of civil liberties.
According to The Guardian, the NSA was granted access to the records by a top secret court order issued in April. The newspaper obtained a copy of the order, which covers the period from April 25 to July 19, 2013.
The directive affects the phone records of millions of Americans, regardless of whether they're suspected of doing wrong.
Steven Bucci of the Heritage Foundation shares his thoughts on the matter on CBN's Newswatch, June 6.
The NSA was given access to the phone numbers of both parties in Verizon calls, location data, the duration of calls and the time of all calls, both inside the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries. The government does not have authority to monitor for content.
The Obama administration pointed out that Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the administration to spy on Americans.
The White House received some backing from two lawmakers from different parties. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., revealed that such surveillance has helped apprehend would-be terrorists, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., affirmed that congressional oversight guards against abuse.
"We want to protect people's private rights," she stated Thursday when addressing the press. "That's why this is carefully done."
But the American Civil Liberties Union called the reported action "alarming," and former Vice President Al Gore registered his disapproval on Twitter, asking, "Is it just me, or is blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?"
The order was requested just 10 days after the Boston Marathon bombing, which was a reminder of the domestic threats the country faces from terrorists.
Others have raised questions about how many other records have been seized beyond the 120 million U.S. customers of Verizon.
ABC News Consultant Brad Garrett, formerly of the FBI, cautioned, "It was a Verizon court order that got leaked, but there would clearly be court orders for other carriers."
The Guardian story comes at a sensitive time for an administration that is already taking heat for tapping journalists' phone lines and for the IRS harassment of conservatives. The controversy reached the limelight just in time for Saturday's 64th anniversary of the release George Orwell's novel 1984, with its chilling portrayal of the dictatorial "Big Brother."