The National Security Agency has been actively accumulating usage information of millions of Verizon customers, thanks to a secret order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, reports The Guardian.
The order, which the court granted to the FBI on April 25, orders Verizon to turn over to the NSA information on every telephone call made in the telecom provider’s systems, whether made within the US or between the US and a foreign country on an “ongoing, daily basis.”
The order runs through July 19.
The information, or “metadata,” that Verizon is providing, includes the two phone numbers involved in each phone call, how long the call lasted, telephone calling card numbers, various identifiers, and “comprehensive communication routing information”.
Furnishing the content of a call is not part of the order.
The information is being collected whole and does not depend on whether or not any individual is suspected of wrongdoing.
Verizon is barred by the order to discuss any aspect of the situation, including the FBI’s involvement and the fact that the order even exists.
Classifying the records as “metadata” and not communications frees the NSA from having to issue individual warrants to obtain the information.
According to Business Insider, which also reported on the story, “the scope of the collection is unlimited, which is extremely unusual,” because Surveillance Court orders usually involve the gathering of records concerning a specific individual who is thought to be involved with either a terrorist group or foreign state.
This tactic, however alarming, is not new.
The Bush administration made no secret of the NSA’s gathering of telephone usage data under its watch, but this current order reveals for the first time that the Obama administration has continued the practice on such a sweeping scale.
While Verizon is the only cell-phone provider specifically named in the order, the NSA is believed to have previously collected information from every major mobile network.
Whether the three-month court order was a one-off, or similar orders to extend it will follow, is unknown.
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