For reasons known only to itself, a US court allowed government spooks to collect the call records of millions of Verizon customers.
Given that the NSA could not have thought that all Verizon customers were criminals, it appears that the government has started to believe that everyone is guilty of something, even if it does not know it yet.
According to a secret document obtained by the Guardian, the order, issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The NSA wanted the metadata on all calls within the US and between the US and foreign countries on an “ongoing, daily basis” for three months.
The spooks asked for the phone numbers of both parties involved in the calls, the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number for mobile callers, calling card numbers used in the call, and the time and duration of the calls.
Apparently they did not get the name or address of the subscriber or other account information, nor the content of calls to be recorded and collected. However, it does mean that the spooks could do a sweep through suspect numbers and then get a court order for those calls it finds suspect.
The classified order was issued to the FBI by the secretive court on 25 April and allows the government to collect data until 19 July – and hand it over to the NSA.
Verizon was forbidden from disclosing the existence and it’s not clear if other phone companies received similar orders. It seems that only in Verizon was there a whistleblower who was brave enough to stand up to the spooks.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union said that from a civil liberties perspective, the programme could hardly be any more alarming.
Millions of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents. It’s analogous to the FBI stationing an agent outside every home in the country to track who goes in and who comes out, he said.
An amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008 allowed the government to conduct bulk collection of all e-mails, phone calls and text messages. This involved only communications where one party to the conversation was thought to be overseas.
In 2006, USA Today first reported that the NSA had been “secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth” in order to produce and analyse calling patterns.