An order issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that compels Verizon to share metadata on all the phone calls its users make with the NSA has been revealed today by The Guardian.
According to the order issued on April 25, one of the biggest telecommunication providers in the U.S. is ordered to hand over – on a daily basis – an electronic copy of all call detail records (“telephony metadata”) for calls made by their users both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and abroad.
This data includes communications routing information, session identifying information (originating and terminating phone number, IMSIs and IMEIs), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of the call, but not personally identifiable and financial information of the customer, not the content of the communication.
Lastly, the directive also comes with a gag order that prevents Verizon from disclosing it to its customers.
The order was made possible by the so-called “business records” provision of section 215 of the Patriot Act, the misuse of which has been heavily criticized by U.S. senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who said 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.”
“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 Guardian pointed out. “The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government’s domestic spying powers.”
As it is well known, the Bush administration allowed the same thing to the NSA in 2001, in the wake of 9/11, but this is the first time that there is concrete proof that the Obama administration has continued with (resumed?) the practice.
“There is no indication that this order to Verizon was unique or novel. It is very likely that business records orders like this exist for every major American telecommunication company, meaning that, if you make calls in the United States, the NSA has those records,” notes the EFF. “And this has been going on for at least 7 years, and probably longer.”
The White House, the Department of Justice, the NSA, and Verizon all declined to comment on the news. The order is valid until July 19.