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Greenwald reports: "The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April."

(illustration: unknown)
(illustration: unknown)

NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily

By Glenn Greenwald, Guardian UK

06 June 13


Exclusive: Top secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over all call data shows scale of domestic surveillance under Obama
Read the Verizon court order in full here
Obama administration justifies surveillance

he National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government's domestic spying powers.

Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.

The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual. Fisa court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets.

The Guardian approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Department of Justice for comment in advance of publication on Wednesday. All declined. The agencies were also offered the opportunity to raise specific security concerns regarding the publication of the court order.

The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI's request for its customers' records, or the court order itself.

"We decline comment," said Ed McFadden, a Washington-based Verizon spokesman.

The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compels Verizon to produce to the NSA electronic copies of "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".

The order directs Verizon to "continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order". It specifies that the records to be produced include "session identifying information", such as "originating and terminating number", the duration of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, and "comprehensive communication routing information".

The information is classed as "metadata", or transactional information, rather than communications, and so does not require individual warrants to access. The document also specifies that such "metadata" is not limited to the aforementioned items. A 2005 court ruling judged that cell site location data – the nearest cell tower a phone was connected to – was also transactional data, and so could potentially fall under the scope of the order.

While the order itself does not include either the contents of messages or the personal information of the subscriber of any particular cell number, its collection would allow the NSA to build easily a comprehensive picture of who any individual contacted, how and when, and possibly from where, retrospectively.

It is not known whether Verizon is the only cell-phone provider to be targeted with such an order, although previous reporting has suggested the NSA has collected cell records from all major mobile networks. It is also unclear from the leaked document whether the three-month order was a one-off, or the latest in a series of similar orders.

The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, about the scope of the Obama administration's surveillance activities.

For roughly two years, the two Democrats have been stridently advising the public that the US government is relying on "secret legal interpretations" to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be "stunned" to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted.

Because those activities are classified, the senators, both members of the Senate intelligence committee, have been prevented from specifying which domestic surveillance programs they find so alarming. But the information they have been able to disclose in their public warnings perfectly tracks both the specific law cited by the April 25 court order as well as the vast scope of record-gathering it authorized.

Julian Sanchez, a surveillance expert with the Cato Institute, explained: "We've certainly seen the government increasingly strain the bounds of 'relevance' to collect large numbers of records at once — everyone at one or two degrees of separation from a target — but vacuuming all metadata up indiscriminately would be an extraordinary repudiation of any pretence of constraint or particularized suspicion." The April order requested by the FBI and NSA does precisely that.

The law on which the order explicitly relies is the so-called "business records" provision of the Patriot Act, 50 USC section 1861. That is the provision which Wyden and Udall have repeatedly cited when warning the public of what they believe is the Obama administration's extreme interpretation of the law to engage in excessive domestic surveillance.

In a letter to attorney general Eric Holder last year, they argued that "there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows."

"We believe," they wrote, "that most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted" the "business records" provision of the Patriot Act.

Privacy advocates have long warned that allowing the government to collect and store unlimited "metadata" is a highly invasive form of surveillance of citizens' communications activities. Those records enable the government to know the identity of every person with whom an individual communicates electronically, how long they spoke, and their location at the time of the communication.

Such metadata is what the US government has long attempted to obtain in order to discover an individual's network of associations and communication patterns. The request for the bulk collection of all Verizon domestic telephone records indicates that the agency is continuing some version of the data-mining program begun by the Bush administration in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack.

The NSA, as part of a program secretly authorized by President Bush on 4 October 2001, implemented a bulk collection program of domestic telephone, internet and email records. A furore erupted in 2006 when USA Today reported that the NSA had "been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth" and was "using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity." Until now, there has been no indication that the Obama administration implemented a similar program.

These recent events reflect how profoundly the NSA's mission has transformed from an agency exclusively devoted to foreign intelligence gathering, into one that focuses increasingly on domestic communications. A 30-year employee of the NSA, William Binney, resigned from the agency shortly after 9/11 in protest at the agency's focus on domestic activities.

In the mid-1970s, Congress, for the first time, investigated the surveillance activities of the US government. Back then, the mandate of the NSA was that it would never direct its surveillance apparatus domestically.

At the conclusion of that investigation, Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho who chaired the investigative committee, warned: "The NSA's capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter."

Additional reporting by Ewen MacAskill and Spencer Ackerman your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

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It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+25 # phrixus 2013-06-06 11:32
This is disgusting.
+7 # MainStreetMentor 2013-06-06 13:15
It most certainly IS disgusting. Obama is taking a lot of heat that he COULD have avoided if he had NOT elected to continue the "spying" initiated by the Bush/Cheney kakistocracy. But ... he didn't reject it. Now, he's paying for it - and so is his political party. The political "heat" is going to get MUCH worse if he does not take immediate and decisive actions to reverse this.
+8 # Jack Gibson 2013-06-06 15:10
They'll never truly reverse it. They may lie and claim that they have, but it will continue to go on, and increase. The U.S. is no longer a free country with freedom of speech, dissent and the rights to seek redress of grievances from the government [without repressive retaliation(s)] , privacy, due process of law, etc. The entire government and country have been going absolutely insane for the past, almost twelve years, and it just gets worse and worse. So, as much as I of course wish it were so, anyone who believes that this increasing trend of surveillance of EVERYONE is going to be reversed, is deluding themselves. The U.S. government has become so bad today that they are obviously preparing to take much more massive, totalitarian actions against the American people. The sheeple have joked about it for decades, though it is no joke, that everyone is presumed guilty and until proven innocent. Well, now it's such to so great an extent that the more and more oppressive and repressive government is making countless innocent Americans unsafe; and innocent conversations can be, and already are being, twisted around and used against unsuspecting innocent people. They now want EVERYONE to be afraid to speak out about anything, and to not even think about, let alone speak about, seeking to hold the government accountable for its ever-increasing abuses of authority under color of "law". Again, as I've long said, we haven't seen anything yet, and it's only going to get much worse.
+4 # tingletlc 2013-06-06 17:51
We were warned. I quit sending money to candidate Obama in July 2008, after he voted in the Senate to give the telecoms immunity from civil suits brought by customers whose phone records the telecoms had shared with the Government. I also quit trusting him.
+27 # jwb110 2013-06-06 11:35
This is the kind of life that the Average Russian had during the USSR years. All this intrusion is OK but back-round checks for gun purchasers is not? Back-round checks may be nothing compared to what's left of our Constitutional rights in the name of National Security.
I'd far rather have all my rights and be less secure than visa versa.
+23 # curmudgeon 2013-06-06 11:43
Good for Glennn...
what a firestorm...

get out the pitchforks and torches and go after the pols who think it is okay
+17 # A Different Drummer 2013-06-06 12:22
Just what is the US government afraid of?
Why are they targeting each of us? I can't think of a single reason that doesn't frighten me to my very core.

My only suggestion is to band together with our loved ones and neighbors and act as though we still have the rights acknowledged by the constitution of the United States of America.
+4 # RMDC 2013-06-07 07:47
You said it all -- they are afraid that we will organize or band together and assert our rights and power. All of the 20th century was about preventing people from organizing and forming unions or affinity groups that could assert power against corporations, the military, and government corruption.

The FBI was created in the 1910s in order to infiltrate and surveil unionists and social organizers and to break them up. The first "red scare" in 1921 was a pretext for massive FBI surveillance. Nothing has changed.

As long as you are an isolated individual whose whole life is consumed with working and shopping, you are OK. But if you band together to assert political and economic power, you will be criminalized and neutralized by any means necessary. that is what the FBI was created to do.
+12 # Kootenay Coyote 2013-06-06 13:06
If they're spying on Verizon, be sure they're spying on all the rest of the providers...KGB & SS, anyone?
+1 # RMDC 2013-06-07 07:58
Yes, but Verizon is the worst of the Worst.
+8 # bbaldwin2001 2013-06-06 13:22
"Such metadata is what the US government has long attempted to obtain in order to discover an individual's network of associations and communication patterns. The request for the bulk collection of all Verizon domestic telephone records indicates that the agency is continuing some version of the data-mining program begun by the Bush administration in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack." You see nothing has changed... and Verison is not the only provider doing it. (MSNBC - 6/6/2013)
+6 # sunflower333 2013-06-06 13:35
Not terrorists. They don't use phones. It is something else. What?
+8 # SMoonz 2013-06-06 14:16
Imagine if Romney had won things would have been alot wor... never mind.
+4 # PABLO DIABLO 2013-06-06 15:02
So much for a reporter's privacy as to who a "leaker/secret source" might be. End of our Constitution. Elizabeth Warren for President 2016. Take back our government. Vote the leeches out, repeal Citizens United, boycott the corporations that are killing us, cut the military machine down to size. Wake up America.
+9 # Trueblue Democrat 2013-06-06 15:15
Who still thinks Obama is simply peachy?

Now, let's not keep seeing the same hands.
+6 # 666 2013-06-06 16:50
I just think he's IM-peachy!

obama & holder, now there's two real, sick, paranoid SOBs
+7 # seeuingoa 2013-06-06 18:24
According to Bush 9/11 happened because
the terrorists hated us and our freedom and tried to change the way we lived.

Did they win ?
0 # Jack Gibson 2013-06-06 23:36
They're winning, and "they", the terrorists, are the U.S. government. The U.S. government hates us and our freedoms, doesn't want us to have those freedoms anymore, is doing away our liberties, and is changing the way we live from a life of liberty and freedom, to a life of absolute monitoring of almost everything we do, and a life of being controlled by the government and their corporate-fasci st partners, the opposite of a life of freedom and liberty. Thus, they, the government, are the ones' who are the enemy and should be locked up, not We, the American people.
+1 # charsjcca 2013-06-06 21:13
I have not knowingly talked on a secure telephone sine April 1963. Snooping has become a way of life in America. The least trusted individuals apparently are those Americans who know their legal status, like who is in charge. Try Daniel Ellsberg and Ralph Nader for a start. I can expand the list to include Marian Wright Edelman
and Mike Haney.
-1 # hammermann 2013-06-07 06:26
What OBL really wanted was to shock the American system into a vast extreme overreaction; there are enough repressive elements here that we could be counted to destroy ourselves and our values. He suceeded.
+2 # RMDC 2013-06-07 08:12
It is ironic that the only mention of Idaho is with reference to Frank Church. but what about the data storage center that the NSA is building in a very remote part of Idaho. What will be stored there? We all know -- every phone call, every internet message, every electronic bank exchange or purchase, and in short all the data on every human being on earth.

The basic storage capacity is said to be equivalent to about 1.5 quadrillion pages of data. I'm not sure what that works our to be on a per capital basis but it might be as much as a million pages for each american citizen. Why so much space unless they are collecting EVERYTHING.

These recent leaks are just trivial. Meta=data. come on. What a distraction. they record full phone calls from everyone. And full emails. and all credit card charges.
0 # Jack Gibson 2013-06-07 13:37
They're building that NSA facility in UTAH, not Idaho.
+1 # RMDC 2013-06-10 07:22
Thanks, jack. Right, Utah.
+1 # dogday 2013-06-08 12:48
If the security agencies cannot access the data randomly -- and they say that they can't, i.e. they must have "probable cause" -- then WHY is it that ALL THE DATA is being collected? These same agencies already have authority to reach individual records in instances of court approved "probable cause", so why the collection?

I think the answer is that the collection of the data is the goal of PRISM not uniquely counter-terrori sm. The goal is to create a centralized comprehensive database of all Americans available to government. This is precisely the abuse of power which has driven Privacy legislation, the unacceptability of just such a database created by and for government. So, in pursuing PRISM the government is deliberately subverting the intent of privacy legislation: Eric Holder knows this but blessed the program anyway because he is an apparatchik of the empire.

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