NSA's Phone-Call Program Meets Mixed Reactions

News that the National Security Agency has tracked nearly every phone call made in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, has sparked more outrage from politicians than from average Americans.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll says that 63 percent think the secret program is justified, while 35 percent call it unjustified.

What the government and phone companies did is probably legal.

"This is all being done by machine," said Bryan Cunningham, a former CIA legal adviser. "There's nobody at NSA who's sitting around reading these records. I think most Americans would say if you're looking for links in the data and you don't have my name and it's a machine not a person, what's the problem?"

Verizon, AT&T and Bellsouth provided data about phone calls to the government, as USA Today first reported. Qwest, which services the West and Northwest, refused to comply with the government. Qwest had no comment for ABC, but the other three companies said they were acting within the law. The fine print on many phone contracts reveals privacy may not always be protected.

Americans make about 890,000 calls every minute, so that's a lot of phone calls to go through. President Bush says the government is only looking for specific information.

"We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans," Bush said. "Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates."

Radio host Howie Carr echoed the sentiments of many Americans when he said, "This is a big story in the lame-stream media, but this is not a story that generates with the American public. … The average person looks at the headline and says, 'I'm glad they're doing this.'"

On Capitol Hill, though, news that the NSA has been gathering massive records on phone calls met criticism from shocked members of both political parties.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., says he'll call the heads of the major phone companies to testify before Congress.

"Shame on us for being so far behind and being so willing to rubber-stamp anything this administration does," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

"We are talking about the most fundamental issue of privacy for America and its citizens," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

George Stephanopoulos, chief Washington correspondent for ABC News and anchorman of ABC's Sunday morning program, "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," says that Capitol Hill will quiet down about this issue.

"When the story broke, members of Congress and the senators who know the most about this program were the most quiet," he said. "They were the ones that were least critical."

More questions about the NSA's phone call data program will probably arise during next Thursday's Senate confirmation hearings for Gen. Michael Hayden, the former head of the NSA who has been nominated as the next director of the CIA.

"But the White House believes that Gen. Hayden is the most effective and articulate advocate on the program, so they're happy to have him out there," Stephanopoulos said.

ABC News' Kate Snow originally reported this story for "Good Morning America."