Officials defend collecting Internet, phone data

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WASHINGTON -- Current and former top U.S. officials on Sunday defended the government's collection of phone and Internet data following new revelations about the secret surveillance programs, saying the operations were essential in disrupting terrorist plots and did not infringe on Americans' civil liberties.

In interviews on Sunday talk shows, guests ranging from White House chief of staff Denis McDonough to former Vice President Dick Cheney and former CIA and National Security Agency head Michael Hayden said the government's reliance on data collection was constitutional and carefully overseen by executive, legislative and court authorities.

All three branches of government, using "aggressive internal checks inside the administration, from inspectors general and routine audits, are overseeing how we do these programs," McDonough said.

The latest reassurances came as a new Washington Post report Sunday described the massive intertwined structure of four major data collection programs that have been set up by the government since the 9/11 attacks.

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Two secret programs, the Post reported from more disclosures provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, are aimed at phone and Internet metadata, while two more target contents of phone and Internet communications. The disclosures, provided by both the Post and the Guardian newspaper, came from classified documents exposed by Snowden, 29.

"I am very, very worried that he still has additional information that he hasn't released yet, the Chinese would welcome the opportunity and probably be willing to provide immunity for him or sanctuary for him, if you will, in exchange for what he presumably knows," Cheney said on "Fox News Sunday."

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