The National Security Agency demanded that telecommunications giant, Verizon, hand over all phone records for calls made in the United States.
Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian reported a top secret court order requires that Verizon turn over records “on an ongoing daily basis” for all calls “wholly within the United States, including local calls” and also “between the United States and abroad.”
The order does not include the content of the calls, but it does collect the “originating and terminating telephone numbers” time and duration of the call, referred to as "metadata."
The order bans Verizon from telling any of its employees about it unless it is necessary to help them comply with the order.
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The four-page order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, is dated April 25. Because the NSA is collecting metadata and not communications information, no warrant is required.
“This confirms what we had long suspected,” wrote Cindy Cohn, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “We’ve been suing over this since 2006.”
Ed McFadden, a Washington-based Verizon spokesman, declined to comment on the matter. It is unclear whether other cell phone providers were also issued a similar order.
The order should expire on July 19 unless it is renewed. Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the government to collect a variety of information without a warrant in the interest of national security, including expense reports and telephone records.
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The EFF has long said the government hides behind Section 215 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in order to violate privacy.
“It’s time to start the national dialogue about our rights in the digital age,” said the EFF website. “It’s time to end the NSA’s unconstitutional domestic surveillance program.”
Cohn said the Verizon order affects “millions and millions of innocent people. There’s no way all of our calling records are relevant to a terrorism investigation.”
She added: “I don’t think the government’s been getting away with this because everybody thinks they’re right.” Instead it is because “they’ve kept the details sufficiently secret” to avoid public dissent.