In a court order obtained and then published last night by the Guardian, we now know that Verizon has been asked to hand over millions of phone records on a daily and ongoing basis to the NSA (National Security Agency). As you can imagine after reading that first sentence, people are not exactly excited about their information being handed out in secret, without their knowledge. As that report gained steam, the Obama administration went ahead and issued a statement this morning to try and calm the public outcry, though I’m not sure it will help at this point.
According to the order, Verizon has been asked to hand over numbers of both parties on phone calls, along with location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The information being given to the NSA does not include the contents of these messages nor does it contain personal information of Verizon’s subscribers or any other cell number. The information is being referred to as “metadata,” and could include calls domestically and internationally.
In the statement this morning, the Obama administration claims that this is “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States,” and that “it allows counter-terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”
According to the Guardian, this order gives the government “unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.” It also 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. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25.
It’s unclear at this point if there are similar orders for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or any other U.S. carrier.
There is obviously a fine line being walked here. If there are no identifiers in the information being gathered, and it is a “critical” tool in counter-terrorism, there are going to be supporters of this type of secret information gathering. But then again, we are talking about your information, my information, being gathered without our knowledge. Privacy concerns are the topic here. This one is going to be in the news for a while, so we’d love to hear your opinions on it.
You can read the entire court order below.
Cheers Mike, Michael and Randy!