The Guardian, a British newspaper, has published a top-secret court order indicating that the U.S. government forced Verizon to turn over millions of records pertaining to phone calls made by its customers. When stories like this come to light, it's important to separate fact from fiction, especially when it comes to sensitive issues like individual privacy. With that in mind, here are five things you need to know about the NSA-Verizon phone records scandal.
1. The NSA asked only for call records, not phone conversations
The top secret court order refers to "telephony metadata," which includes the number of a person making a call, the number receiving the call and the date, time and duration of the call. The court order doesn't mandate that Verizon record conversations and turn those conversations over to the NSA. It says on page 2 of the court order:
"Telephony metadata does not include the substantive content of any communication...or the name, address or financial information of a subscriber or customer."
Hopefully that puts you at some ease. Key word: some.
2. The court order asked only for U.S. call data
The second page of the court order states that it doesn't require Verizon to produce data "wholly originating and terminating in foreign countries." Only calls containing domestic data were requested. That means data for both domestic calls and calls where one party is located here in the U.S. and the other is in another country was requested.
3. The Obama administration is continuing what the Bush administration started
According to multiple reports, Verizon, AT&T and other firms began sharing customers' call records with the NSA not long after 9/11. In other words, this is nothing new.
4. The court order has an expiration date
According to the court order, it is set to expire July 19 at 5 p.m. EST. So at least this wasn't an order requiring Verizon to hand over records indefinitely.
5. Verizon is the only company named in the court order
However, that doesn't mean that the NSA hasn't approached other companies including Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and others with similar demands. We reached out to representatives of each of these firms for comment and insight, and we'll update this story with relevant information should any of the above carriers respond to us with relevant and significant information.
What do you think of the NSA-Verizon phone records scandal? Do you fear for your privacy? Are you considering leaving Verizon as a result? If so, will you break your contract or wait until it expires? What other privacy concerns do you have? Sound off in the comments below.