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article imageNSA is secretly collecting Verizon customers phone records

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jun 6, 2013 in World
Washington - According to a secret court order obtained by UK's Guardian newspaper, the US National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting on "an ongoing daily basis" the telephone records of millions of Verizon Communications customers.
The order marked "Top Secret" was issued by the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) which conducts its proceedings secretly. It was signed by FISC Judge Roger Vinson, a federal judge in Florida, on the basis of an interpretation of Section 215, of the Patriot Act, 50 USC 1861, known as the "business records" portion.
According to CNET, the section gives the FBI sweeping powers to obtain any "tangible thing" including "book, records, papers, documents and other items," including "dumps from private-sector computer databases with limited judicial oversight."
The court order requires Verizon's Business Network Services Inc. and Verizon Business Services units to hand over "on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order" both international and domestic calling records, and expressly forbids disclosure of the existence of the order.
According to The Guardian, the order specifically compels Verizon to give 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."
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."
It follows from the definition of "metadata" that the order does not require that Verizon disclose the contents of communication or identities of its customers.
The order can be seen here.
It was granted on April 25 and expires on July 19.
According to the Guardian, the copy of the court order it obtained provides, for the first time, concrete evidence "that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."
The fact that Verizon Communications Inc. listed 121 million customers in its April first-quarter earnings report (98.9 million wireless customers, 11.7 million residential phone lines and about 10 million commercial lines) gives an idea of the massive scale of the ongoing clandestine information gathering.
According to Fox News, Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden, said Wednesday that the company has no comments. The White House has also not commented, referring questions to the NSA which has not offered any comments either.
The order is unusual because previous FISC court orders have only asked for records of specifically targeted persons suspected of being involved directly or indirectly in terrorist activity.
The disclosure, coming at a time the Obama administration is under scrutiny over related issues perceived as violations of privacy and First Amendment, is certain to generate controversy and heighten perceptions that the US is degenerating into an Orwellian police surveillance state. Already, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has described the order as "beyond Orwellian."
Reuters reports that Kurt Opsahl, an attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said: "That's not the society we've built in the United States. It's not the society we set forth in the Constitution, and it's not the society we should have."
The Deputy Legal Director of ACLU, Jameel Jaffer, said in a statement: "From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It's a program in which 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."
CNET notes that the Justice Department's preferred interpretation of Section 215 which gives it sweeping powers has been a source of concern in the past. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado), had raised alarm when the Patriot Act was being renewed in 2011. According to Wyden, who served on the intelligence committee with Udall: "I believe that when more of my colleagues and the American public come to understand how the Patriot Act has actually been interpreted in secret, they will insist on significant reforms too."
The use of section 215 has not been limited to collecting telephone call information. According to CNET, the Justice Department previously confirmed that the section "has been used to obtain driver's license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records."
This isn't the first time the NSA has been accused of spying on US citizens. It is also not the first time that there has been information that the NSA is actively collecting phone records of US citizens and residents which can be used for domestic criminal investigations.
Tim Clemente, a former FBI counter-terrorism agent, told the CNN recently: "All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not."
FBI Director Robert Mueller also dropped hints during a 2011 Congressional hearing about the existence of secret legal documents by the Justice Department's office of Legal Counsel that authorize expansive interpretation and use of Section 215.
CNET reports that former Senator Russ Fetingold, said in a February 2010 speech:
Section 215 has been misused. I cannot elaborate, but I believe that the public deserves some information about this. I and others have also pressed the administration to declassify some basic information about the use of section 215, and it has declined... We must find a way to have an open and honest debate about the nature of these government powers, while still protecting national security secrets, and under current conditions that simply isn't possible... Lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel looked for every possible loophole in statutory language to justify what I believe were clearly illegal wiretapping and interrogation programs. That should also teach us that we must be extraordinarily careful in how we draft these laws: We must say exactly what we mean and leave no room for reinterpretation.
According to Reuters, the AT&T Inc, the biggest US telephone company measured by revenue, has not responded to questions whether it has also received similar requests for data.
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