The National Security Agency now has access to the telephone records of millions of American citizens, as a leaked top-secret court order shows. The court order, uncovered by the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, requests that Verizon -- one of the largest telecom companies in America -- provide such phone records to the government starting in April.
The court order, issued in April and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, shows that the Obama administration is collecting information on American citizens whether or not they are suspected of any crimes or wrongdoing. Under the order, information on every single Verizon call taking place entirely or partly in the United States is being collected regardless of the parties involved.
The order specifically demands that Verizon provide the NSA with “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.” This information is given to the NSA on an “ongoing daily basis.” The order also clarifies that Verizon is not required to turn over data on calls that take place entirely outside of the United States.
According to the order, telephony metadata is defined 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 (IMEI) number, etc., trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call.”
This means that the names and numbers of both parties are provided to the government, alongside the location of the calls, their duration and other information identifying the parties involved. The order specifies that the actual phone conversations are not recorded or sent to the NSA.
Greenwald also speculates that other telecom companies may be under similar orders from the NSA, but states that there is no specific proof of this.
As the Guardian notes, the Bush administration took similar steps toward monitoring American phone calls, but this appears to be the first time a similar large-scale phone surveillance operation has been unveiled under the Obama administration. The information comes only a few weeks after word broke that the Justice Department secretly obtained phone records from Associated Press reporters.
Read the full court order here.