(Fox Nation) -- The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.
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.
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is secretly carrying out a domestic surveillance program under which it is collecting business communications records involving Americans under a hotly debated section of the Patriot Act, according to a highly classified court order disclosed on Wednesday night.
The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in April, directs a Verizon Communications subsidiary, Verizon Business Network Services, to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis” to the National Security Agency all call logs “between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Thursday defended the National Security Agency's need to collect telephone records of U.S. citizens, calling such information "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats."
While defending the practice, a senior administration official did not confirm a newspaper report that the NSA has been collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order.
The order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19, Britain's Guardian 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.
The administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to publicly discuss classified matters.
Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said Wednesday the company had no comment. The NSA had no immediate comment.
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.
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 administration official said, "On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone's telephone calls."
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.
Massive NSA Phone Data-Mining Operation Revealed
ACLU Calls for End to Program, Disclosure of Program’s Scope, Congressional Investigation
NEW YORK – Using the Patriot Act, the U.S. government has been secretly tracking the calls of every Verizon Business Network Services customer – whom they talked to, from where, and for how long – for the past 41 days, according to a report published by The Guardian.
“From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It’s a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents,” said Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director. “It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies.”
The program was put in place under the Patriot Act’s Section 215, a controversial provision that authorizes the government to seek secret court orders for the production of “any tangible thing” relevant to a foreign-intelligence or terrorism investigation. Recipients of Section 215 orders, such as telecommunications companies, are prohibited from disclosing that they gave the government their customers’ records.
“Now that this unconstitutional surveillance effort has been revealed, the government should end it and disclose its full scope, and Congress should initiate a full investigation,” said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This disclosure also highlights the growing gap between the public’s and the government’s understandings of the many sweeping surveillance authorities enacted by Congress. Since 9/11, the government has increasingly classified and concealed not just facts, but the law itself. Such extreme secrecy is inconsistent with our democratic values of open government and accountability.”
The first information about the government’s use of Section 215 was made public in response to Freedom of Information Act litigation filed by the ACLU 10 years ago. More recently, members of Congress have warned that the government has secretly interpreted Section 215 in a way that would shock Americans. In 2012, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) wrote, “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry.”
In May 2011, shortly before Section 215 was scheduled to expire, the ACLU filed a new FOIA request in an effort to learn more about the “secret interpretation” to which Sens. Wyden and Udall had referred. Congress reauthorized Section 215 without amendment until 2015, and for the last two years, the government has refused to describe its secret interpretation. Whether or not the program described by The Guardian reflects that “secret interpretation,” today’s disclosure confirms that the government has interpreted Section 215 extraordinarily broadly.
This disclosure is likely to have significant implications for the ACLU’s pending FOIA lawsuit. The Department of Justice is scheduled to file a brief in that case on June 13; the ACLU’s response is due on June 28, and oral argument is scheduled for July 11 in the Southern District of New York.