The NSA has been collecting the phone data of all Verizon customers anywhere inside the U.S. since at least April 25, according to a newly leaked top secret order from the U.S. government’s spy court.
The court order showed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, commonly called the FISA court, recently granted an FBI application to order Verizon to produce “all call detail records or “telephony metadata” created by Verizon for communications “(i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
The leaked court order expires on July 19, 2013, sanctioning a nearly 3 month operation by the NSA in which Verizon was mandated to hand over the requested data on “an ongoing daily basis” for the duration of the order, unless the FISA court said otherwise.
The order — revealed by The Guardian on Wednesday evening — was meant to be declassified on April 12, 2038.
An anonymous source for The Washington Post said that the surveillance order is routinely reissued every 90 days and is unrelated to any particular investigation by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Under the Patriot Act’s controversial Section 215, the federal government was enabled the ability to secretly obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a foreign intelligence or terrorism investigation.
Companies that receive a Section 215 order are placed under a gag order.
The order also placed Verizon, the nation’s top wireless carrier, under a gag order, ordering them not to reveal that the FBI or the NSA “sought or obtained” the data the telecommunications company was forced to hand over.
The court order defines “telephony metadata” as comprehensive communications routing information, including, but not limited to: session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, International Mobile station Equipment Identity number, etc.), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers and time and duration of call.”
In other words, data identifying between which phone numbers a call took place, when a call took place and the duration of the call.
Telephony metadata does not include the “substantive content” of the call. But as former NSA executive and agency whistleblower Thomas Drake pointed out to The Daily Caller in a recent interview, the metadata of a phone call provides intelligence agencies more than enough information about a suspect.
The Truman administration chartered the NSA in 1952 to conduct foreign signals intelligence. The agency first came under fire for conducting illegal domestic surveillance in 1975 by the Senate “Church Committee.”
The NSA’s secret domestic surveillance program under the George W. Bush administration was first revealed in 2005 as a product of the administration’s response to 9/11.
Since then, the federal government’s domestic surveillance operations — prosecuted in the name of law enforcement, national security and the War on Terror — have only increased in size and scope under the Bush and Obama administrations.
In 2009, The New York Times reported that the NSA also wiretapped an unidentified member of Congress.
NSA chief General Keith Alexander repeatedly denied the existence of a domestic surveillance program when he appeared before Congress in March 2012.
Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, in a statement Wednesday evening responding to the NSA leak, demanded transparency and an end to the program.
“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 Richardson.