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President George W. Bush insisted Tuesday that the United States does not listen in on domestic telephone conversations among ordinary Americans. But he sidestepped whether the National Security Agency compiles phone records on millions of people.
"We do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval," Bush said in an East Room news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
"What I've told the American people is we'll protect them against an al-Qaida attack. And we'll do that within the law," Bush said.
"This government will continue to guard the privacy of the American people. But if al-Qaida is calling into the United States, we want to know, and we want to know why," the president added.
However, Bush did not respond directly when asked whether it was a violation of privacy for the NSA to seek phone records from telephone companies.
A Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday on Bush's nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to head the Central Intelligence Agency. As the NSA director from 1999-2005, Hayden oversaw the government's warrantless surveillance program.
Questions about that program, and new revelations about the NSA's phone data bank, may be obstacles to Hayden's confirmation.
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