Update: One of our insider sources at Verizon was able to send us a .pdf of the actual court order to which this article refers. To be clear, this can also be found at a few other sites on the web covering this news. We aren't claiming to have any special exclusives, but we found it interesting to have the actual document from Verizon in hand and wanted to share it with you guys. Here it is: Verizon-top-secret-court-order-from-nsa.pdf
Under a top secret court order filed in April, the National Security Agency has been collecting call logs for all Verizon Wireless customers, including the numbers of both parties on a call, the location data, the call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls.
The court order concerns all calls to, from and within the United States, and it utilizes aspects of the 2001 Bush-era provision in the Patriot Act (50 USC section 1861) in order to combine federal datasets and look for patterns on anything which could be related to terrorism.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.
Despite the seemingly benign intended purpose, this basically boils down to millions of American citizens being spied upon by their own government. What is most disturbing is the unlimited nature of the information being handed over to the NSA. Here's a quote with a few more of the details,
For now only a court order for Verizon has been shown, but it is possible other carriers might be under similar court orders. There is no evidence to suggest one way or the other at this time. It is important to note that the actual content of the telephone conversations is not what has been handed over, although what the NSA did gather is still a shocking amount of detail. Here is their statement on the matter,The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compels Verizon to produce to the NSA 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 order directs Verizon to "continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order". It specifies that the records to be produced include "session identifying information", such as "originating and terminating number", the duration of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, and "comprehensive communication routing information".
The information is classed as "metadata", or transactional information, rather than communications, and so does not require individual warrants to access. The document also specifies that such "metadata" is not limited to the aforementioned items. A 2005 court ruling judged that cell site location data – the nearest cell tower a phone was connected to – was also transactional data, and so could potentially fall under the scope of the order.
While the order itself does not include either the contents of messages or the personal information of the subscriber of any particular cell number, its collection would allow the NSA to build easily a comprehensive picture of who any individual contacted, how and when, and possibly from where, retrospectively.
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.
“Information of the sort described in this article from The Guardian newspaper has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located in the United States… On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls.”
Ultimately, no matter how this turns out for the U.S. Government and the NSA, this is a PR nightmare for Verizon. Yes, they were issued a court order, but they apparently didn't put up any fight to protect their customers either. Of course, The Guardian didn't indicate how they received a record of this top secret court order, so we don't really yet know enough facts to make snap judgments. Still, it is justifiably disconcerting, and we can likely expect a firestorm in the news media for at least a few weeks.
Source: The Guardian