The Obama administration has continued a controversial procedure first enacted by the Bush administration, though with one key difference. The Guardian reported on Wednesday night — and supplied an unredacted copy of the court order, as well — that Verizon Wireless, the nation’s largest wireless carrier, has been ordered to hand over the phone records of all its customers to the NSA on a daily basis.
Two key points there are the words “daily” and “all.”
Another key point, though, and something not done by the Bush administration, is that the Obama administration went to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to get a court order. The document, available here, was signed by FISC Judge Roger Vinson, who normally serves as a federal judge in Florida.
The FISC is a secret court, one which addresses matters of a sensitive nature. Its hearings are not public, and the proceedings are not generally released to the public, although redacted information has been released in the past.
The order was signed on April 25, and gives the U.S. government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a three-month period, which ends on July 19.
Under the terms of the court order, the following information is being handed over by Verizon Wireless.
- The numbers of both parties
- Location data
- Call duration
- Unique identifiers
- The time and duration of the call
The contents of the conversation itself are not covered. It is unclear if there is a similar order which covers data transmission, such as websites visited, text messages, emails, etc. It is also unclear — but likely — if the nation’s other wireless carriers have been issued similar court orders.
The request for the court order came under the umbrella of the Patriot Act, and used Section 215, which better known as the “business records” portion. That section allows FBI agents to obtain “any tangible thing,” including “books, records, papers, documents, and other items.”
While the contents of calls are not revealed, the information above is enough for the Obama administration to gain a lot of knowledge about a person and their social network. Issues such as Apple’s location tracking database have shown that the general public and privacy advocates don’t want such data shared.
We need not even discuss Facebook’s famous privacy fiascoes.
The ACLU called the the order as “beyond Orwellian.”
ACLU Deputy Legal Director 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.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee launched a petition to Congress, asking for a Congressional investigation.
So far, the site says, 12,577 people have “taken action,” which is 125 percent of their stated goal of 10,000 — and just since the Guardian’s story went live late Wednesday.