Information about an indiscriminate government program to collect the records of US citizens from Verizon phone company has been exposed by the Guardian. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISA, which operates in secrecy, granted a court order to the FBI in April, giving the Obama administration unlimited authority to obtain Verizon phone data for three months, ending on July 19.
Glenn Greenwald reports that during this three month period, the government agency has been given blanket authority to demand phone call location data, call duration, unique identifiers and the numbers of both parties in a given conversation. The large-scale NSA collection of international calls to and from the U.S. was a notable policy of the Bush administration and these documents appear to reveal that the scope has expanded to strictly domestic communication under President Obama.
Generally, FISA court orders are directed to specific named targets/suspects or a limited set of named individuals. Most surprising in this case is the wide, limitless nature of the order, which compels Verizon to produce electronic copies of “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ for communications between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
Verizon is directed to “continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order.” It is unclear if any other cell-phone providers have been targeted.
This newly uncovered FISA order relies on provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act and compels information that is considered “metadata” or transactional – not the actual contents of messages. The metadata classification, unlike more invasive forms of communication surveillance, does not legally require individual warrants for the government to gain access. I’ve reported on at least one other case of domestic FBI surveillance, using state-of-the-art technology that can trick an individual target’s cell phone, record conversations, send fake messages, and even reconfigure the phone’s characteristics remotely.
These cases demonstrate the frightening scope and regularity of our government’s domestic surveillance program.