The National Security Agency is apparently currently collecting all telephone records from the country’s second largest phone company through a top-secret court order.
The Guardian newspaper claims to have obtained a copy of the order, which shows that Verizon is required to provide information daily on phone records. The information does not include the content of conversations, but would include numbers called and locations.
Analysts say if it is genuine, similar orders are likely to exist for other phone companies.
The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, requires that Verizon provide, “on an ongoing daily basis” all call records for any call “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls” and any call made “between the United States and abroad.”
The document specifies that the records include “session identifying information,” such as “originating and terminating number,” the length of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, and “comprehensive communication routing information.”
According to the document, the order was granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) on April 25, at the behest of the FBI, and gives the government a three-month window into all telephone records.
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The Guardian says the NSA, the White House and the Department of Justice were also offered the opportunity to raise specific security concerns regarding the publication of the court order. They declined.
The court order includes a gagging order, baring Verizon from revealing the FBI’s request, or the court order itself.
The order chimes with veiled warnings made over the last two years by two members of the Senate intelligence committee, who are bound to secrecy by the classified status of the surveillance methods that they say alarm them.
Democrat Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, have warned that the U.S. public would be “stunned” by the domestic surveillance powers invoked through “secret legal interpretations.”
The order bypasses the legal protection given to communications, which would require individual warrants, because the information requested is classified as “transactional” information, or “metadata.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has previously challenged the government’s surveillance tactics in court, said in a statement that the order “requires no level of suspicion and applies to all Verizon subscribers anywhere in the U.S. It also contains a gag order prohibiting Verizon from disclosing information about the order to anyone other than their counsel.”
Kurt Opsahl, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told Reuters it was unlikely that Verizon would be the only subject of such an order and that the other major phone carriers would have similar orders.
“That’s not the society we’ve built in the United States,” he said “It’s not the society we set forth in the Constitution, and it’s not the society we should have.”
The EFF is currently suing the NSA over domestic surveillance.
Former vice president Al Gore said in a tweet that privacy must be a priority in the digital era. “Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?”