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Glenn Greenwald, reporting for The Guardian, says that The Guardian is in possession of a secret court order issued in April that requires Verizon to report daily to the FBI detailed information on every phone call placed by Americans, domestic or international. The order is signed by Roger Vinson, Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Court.
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.
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The Guardian approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Department of Justice for comment in advance of publication on Wednesday. All declined. The agencies were also offered the opportunity to raise specific security concerns regarding the publication of the court order.
The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI’s request for its customers’ records, or the court order itself.
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It is not known whether Verizon is the only cell-phone provider to be targeted with such an order, although previous reporting has suggested the NSA has collected cell records from all major mobile networks. It is also unclear from the leaked document whether the three-month order was a one-off, or the latest in a series of similar orders.
The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, about the scope of the Obama administration’s surveillance activities.
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These recent events reflect how profoundly the NSA’s mission has transformed from an agency exclusively devoted to foreign intelligence gathering, into one that focuses increasingly on domestic communications. A 30-year employee of the NSA, William Binney, resigned from the agency shortly after 9/11 in protest at the agency’s focus on domestic activities.
In the mid-1970s, Congress, for the first time, investigated the surveillance activities of the US government. Back then, the mandate of the NSA was that it would never direct its surveillance apparatus domestically.
At the conclusion of that investigation, Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho who chaired the investigative committee, warned: “The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter.
Consider for a moment what tracking of your phone call numbers dialed and numbers received can reveal, especially when combined with other data, about the lives of US citizens, including you, who happen to be, like me, Verizon customers. Read the order yourself. Are you agreeable to this type of surveillance of American citizens? And don’t for a moment think that similar orders are not in place with all the other US carriers.
I think this order provides sufficient evidence to begin impeachment proceedings against both President Obama and Judge Roger Vinson for violating the explicit rights provided under the Constitution. The oath of the President requires him or her to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” In all seriousness, this seems to be the end of privacy and the end of Fourth Amendment protection for United States citizens. Screw the IRS issues, screw Benghazi, screw the Eric Holder controversies. This is the only approach that will stop the continuing elimination of privacy rights in this country. This abuse trumps everything. Trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan once said.
More from The Guardian. More from Wired, The Verge, CNet and Tech Crunch. The EFF has long warned that this is probably happening. They note that:
Former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente told CNN last month that, in national security investigations, the bureau can access records of a previously-made telephone call. “All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not,” he said. Clemente added in an appearance the next day that, thanks to the “intelligence community” — a likely reference to the NSA — “there’s a way to look at digital communications in the past.”
And The Guardian explains how telephone metadata (which Verizon is required to provide) can reveal much about your life.
The government has long argued that this information isn’t private or personal. It is, they say, the equivalent of looking at the envelope of a letter: what’s written on the outside is simple, functional information that’s essentially already public.
That forms the basis of collection: because it’s not personal information, but rather “transactional” or “business” data, there’s no need to show probable cause to collect it. Collection is also helped by the fact this information is already disclosed by callers to their carriers – because your phone number is shared with your provider, you’re not treating it as private.
But that is not a view shared by privacy advocates. Groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation say that by knowing who an individual speaks to, and when, and for how long, intelligence agencies can build up a detailed picture of that person, their social network, and more. Collecting information on where people are during the calls colours in that picture even further.
One recent case that highlights this tension is the recent subpoenas of the call records of Associated Press journalists, which led to clashes between the media and the White House over what was widely seen as intrusion into a free press.
The information collected on the AP was telephony metadata: precisely what the court order against Verizon shows is being collected by the NSA on millions of Americans every day.
And Twitter is starting to light up:
You might also want to listen to this little ditty from They Might Be Giants:
My first call tomorrow morning will be to Verizon seeking an explanation about what they are doing with my data.