The Guardian has obtained a copy of a court order requiring Verizon to provide the National Security Agency with all of the telephone records of its customers within the United States. The order pertains to calls made from the US to the US, or from the US to foreign countries. The order is ongoing, and it involves millions of Americans.
The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.
Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.
The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government’s domestic spying powers. (Read More)
This doesn’t come as much of a surprise. We’ve already covered the massive Utah complex they’re using to store all of our data, and how they’re pretty much spying on all of us. But perhaps with the latest assault on the media, the US press will start to cover how the government is routinely infringing on our rights. You know they’d be all over it if it was a Republican in the White House.
Late last year, I wrote about a few actual harms that citizens should be worried about from these types of big-data spying programs. Blackmailing citizens critical of the government seemed like a distant hypothetical, until we learned that the IRS was auditing Tea Party groups and journalists were being wiretapped. Nefarious actors inside the government like to abuse national security programs for political ends, and that should make us all (even more) suspect of government spying.
And here is how this is a complete overreach and distortion of the Patriot Act, which is bad on its face, but this interpretation of it is just abhorrent.
The order is based on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows law enforcement to obtain a wide variety of “business records,” including calling records. EFF has long criticized Section 215, which sets a threshold for obtaining records much lower than the “probable cause” standard required to get a search warrant.
But Cohn argues that the kind of dragnet surveillance suggested by the Verizon order exceeds even the authority granted by the Patriot Act. “Section 215 is written as if they’re going after individual people based on individual investigations,” she says. In contrast, the order leaked to the Guardian affects “millions and millions of innocent people. There’s no way all of our calling records are relevant to a terrorism investigation.”
“I don’t think Congress thought it was authorizing dragnet surveillance” when it passed the Patriot Act, Cohn says. “I don’t think Americans think that’s OK. I would be shocked if the majority of congressmen thought it’s okay.”
I didn’t have a blog back when the Patriot Act passed, so I didn’t write anything, but I remember thinking it wasn’t a good idea. While I understood how lawmakers felt the need to “do something” after 9/11, I wondered how it could be used to abuse law abiding citizens. Now we’re finding out.