The National Security Agency currently is collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday.
The order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and was good until July 19, the newspaper said. 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.
Verizon Communications Inc. listed 121 million customers in its first-quarter earnings report this April — 98.9 million wireless customers, 11.7 million residential phone lines and about 10 million commercial lines. The court order didn’t specify which type of phone customers’ records were being tracked.
“Privacy advocates have long warned that allowing the government to collect and store unlimited ‘metadata’ is a highly invasive form of surveillance of citizens’ communications activities,” The Guardian points out. “Those records enable the government to know the identity of every person with whom an individual communicates electronically, how long they spoke, and their location at the time of the communication. Such metadata is what the US government has long attempted to obtain in order to discover an individual’s network of associations and communication patterns. The request for the bulk collection of all Verizon domestic telephone records indicates that the agency is continuing some version of the data-mining program begun by the Bush administration in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack.”