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.
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.Remarkably, the order (see here) included "all call detail records or 'telephony metadata' created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls." So no content, but basically the header information from the phones of both parties. Still, local phone calls, too? Wow. Talk about a Big Data Bonanza! Perhaps Grits hasn't been paranoid enough.
The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government's domestic spying powers.
MORE: From Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy. AND MORE: See a followup from the Guardian and related coverage from the Washington Post. By one account, the NSA gathers information in this fashion from more than 50 companies. ALSO: AP has an excellent Q&A parsing the scope of the NSA phone-data order.
POSTSCRIPT: According to the bevy of followup reporting on this yesterday, data from this order was going into a massive database of Americans' phone calls that the feds began compiling seven years ago. In the coming days and weeks there will be many calls for this program to be discontinued. Grits considers it critical that those political efforts also focus on demands that the database itself be destroyed.