“Report: Gov’t scooping up Verizon phone records”
The National Security Agency has been collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order, according to a report in Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
The order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19, the newspaper reported Wednesday. The order requires Verizon, one of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies, on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.
The newspaper said the document, a copy of which it had obtained, shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens were being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing.
The Associated Press could not authenticate the order because documents from the court are classified.
Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said Wednesday the company had no comment. The White House declined comment and referred questions to the NSA. The NSA had no immediate comment.
Under the terms of the order, the phone numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as are location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered, The Guardian said.
The broad, unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is unusual. FISA court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets. NSA warrantless wiretapping during the George W. Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks was very controversial.
The FISA court order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compelled Verizon to provide the NSA with electronic copies of “all call detail records or telephony metadata created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls,” The Guardian said.
The law on which the order explicitly relies is the “business records” provision of the USA Patriot Act.
Look, I know I’m supposed to be OUTRAGED by this — and perhaps as more information comes to light I will be — but back when the NSA was data mining to try to uncover terror networks in the aftermath of 911, I fought very hard against the leftists who kept arguing that a) what was being done was sinister, and b) that the NSA didn’t have the authority. The problem was and is always that cellphone technology and the nature of contemporary communication itself makes it impossible to get specific FISA warrants in a timely manner and on an individual basis such that they are at all efffective; meaning that the warrants would have to be issued broadly.
If I’m understanding what’s happening here — and there’s a chance I’m not, and that the Obama administration is tracking Verizon data for other reasons, and has access to specifics, including names and the like — then I find it hard to get too worked up: it seems to me this is very function of the NSA, and that the kind of meta data they agency is gathering is what is used to find potential nodal points for terror networks.
What I’d be interested in learning is what precautions are being taken to assure those of us who are Verizon customers that, unless we’ve been flagged by our meta data, no information on us individually is being retained. And that once we have been flagged — by certain aspects of usage and patterns of data that the NSA has determined are potentially indicative of terror activity — any further investigation requires additional judicial approval and oversight.
I did a lot of work on the NSA “warrantless wiretap” so-called “scandal” back in the earlier days of the blogosphere. For those of you interested, see here.
If what this is is but a further iteration of what the NSA was doing in the months after 911, I will pass on trying to turn this into an Obama administration scandal.
– Though all those lefties who determined that this was an outrageous offense and a corruption of liberty when George Bush was President should be howling at Obama today. And I suspect some will in order to save face. Most, though, will defend him, apply tu quoque “reasoning” — Bush did it too! — at which point we should agree and say, yes, but why were you so outraged by Bush’s actions, but now defend Obama’s on the basis that he is acting perfectly consistently with the person that so outraged you with his actions to begin with?
(h/t JHo and Jim Geraghty)