Report: NSA collecting daily phone logs of millions of American Verizon customers

posted at 9:21 pm on June 5, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham

It’s beginning to look like the Obama administration is not at all interested in targeting domestic surveillance in any way that might attempt to mitigate its violations of privacy or increase its odds of actually finding people doing something illegal. Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice cast a wide net in his search of AP phone logs, was the picture of intrusiveness in the James Rosen case, and now NSA is targeting millions of Americans for daily data collection?

Glenn Greenwald reports on secret court order, issued in April, which compelled one of the nation’s largest telecom providers to hand over daily call logs to the federal government. The information did not include actual content of conversations, but it included everything but:

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.

If you have any calls of a sensitive nature to make, you may want to wait until July 19, when the order expires. Will newly minted NSA Susan Rice, Holder, or President Obama know anything about this until they read it in the paper tomorrow?

TechCrunch notes that longtime skepticism of Bush-era Patriot Act provisions, and how the government interprets them, wedded to the newly more plausible scenario of political adversaries being targeted with such powers is a potent one:

The Senate’s tech-savviest member, Ron Wyden (CrunchGov Grade: A), has been discretely warning citizens of these kinds of secretive government projects. “There is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows,” wrote Wyden and Senator Mark Udall to embattled Attorney Eric Holder.

The order apparently draws from a 2001 Bush-era provision in the Patriot Act (50 USC section 1861). The revelation dovetails similar exposes on massive government spying projects, including one project to combine federal datasets and look for patterns on anything which could be related to terrorism.

Late last year, I wrote about a few actual harms that citizens should be worried about from these types of big-data spying programs. Blackmailing citizens critical of the government seemed like a distant hypothetical, until we learned that the IRS was auditing Tea Party groups and journalists were being wiretapped. Nefarious actors inside the government like to abuse national security programs for political ends, and that should make us all (even more) suspect of government spying.

You can read the whole court order, here. It’s signed by FISA court judge Roger Vinson, whose name you may remember because he’s also the federal judge who declared the Obamacare individual mandate an unconstitutional regulation of economic inactivity back in 2011.

Update: The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has long accused the government of this type of surveillance, says this action is being undertaken under a section of the Patriot Act, but is a clear overstep of the law’s requirement that it be targeted at individuals under some sort of suspicion in specific investigations:

“This confirms what we had long suspected,” says Cindy Cohn, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties organization that has long accused the government of operating a secret dragnet surveillance program. “We’ve been suing over this since 2006.”

The order is based on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows law enforcement to obtain a wide variety of “business records,” including calling records. EFF has long criticized Section 215, which sets a threshold for obtaining records much lower than the “probable cause” standard required to get a search warrant.

But Cohn argues that the kind of dragnet surveillance suggested by the Verizon order exceeds even the authority granted by the Patriot Act. “Section 215 is written as if they’re going after individual people based on individual investigations,” she says. In contrast, the order leaked to the Guardian affects “millions and millions of innocent people. There’s no way all of our calling records are relevant to a terrorism investigation.”

“I don’t think Congress thought it was authorizing dragnet surveillance” when it passed the Patriot Act, Cohn says. “I don’t think Americans think that’s OK. I would be shocked if the majority of congressmen thought it’s okay.”

Update: Obligatory flashback with soaring, beautifully worded hypocrisy.

Update: The other obligatory flashback to USA Today‘s reporting on what was presumably the same program, under the Bush administration, in 2006. This is separate from the warrantless wiretapping story, which got much more press. Greenwald’s court order is the first documentation of the practice continuing under Obama, despite the fact he was elected on promises to do pretty much the opposite:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

“It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA’s activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency’s goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders, this person added.

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

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I levy constant attacks on the Obama Administration, as any honest reader of my comments here would agree. And in social media I’m significantly more critical of the President.

libfreeordie on June 6, 2013 at 1:26 PM

And yet, you will never, ever vote for a Republican President. The worst you will ever do is stay home, and in 2012, when you could have stayed home and sent a message (hey, *you’re* the one who says how outraged you are at Obama’s “Bush-ian” foreign policy), you refused. You voted for the Bronze Jesus because you couldn’t stand the thought of icky, white, racist, Republican Mitt Romney in the White House.

Your impotent criticisms mean nothing because they are toothless. You will never, ever bite the hand that feeds you.

Good Solid B-Plus on June 6, 2013 at 2:31 PM

Your impotent criticisms mean nothing because they are toothless. You will never, ever bite the hand that feeds you.

Good Solid B-Plus on June 6, 2013 at 2:31 PM

And that was the exact argument that I was making uphread. but then I don’t have your eloquence, am not a native speaker of English and I use a bloody iphone to comment on hotair :)… so, I got called on my typos and lack of sentence structure by the good Professor boohoo :))) but thdn I’m sure ne’s gone now, once he was eosed alas, again, by rigerb for the hypocrite liar that he is…

jimver on June 6, 2013 at 2:36 PM

My iphone, you’re officially a disgrace :) translation from iphone lingo: :)…but tben I am sure he’s gone now once he was exposed alas, again by rogerb..’….

jimver on June 6, 2013 at 2:38 PM

Did the NSA listen in on Romney Campaign phone calls? Did they share that info with White House? No? Prove it.

patch on June 6, 2013 at 2:42 PM

Good Solid B-Plus on June 6, 2013 at 2:31 PM

You would never vote for a Democrat, no matter how atrocious the GOP candidate. Welcome to the 2 party system.

libfreeordie on June 6, 2013 at 3:00 PM

You would never vote for a Democrat, no matter how atrocious the GOP candidate. Welcome to the 2 party system.

libfreeordie on June 6, 2013 at 3:00 PM

If I pretended to oppose Romney/Paul/Cruz/Rubio/Insert 2016 GOP candidate here as much as you pretend to oppose Obama, I’d either stay home or vote 3rd party.

You voted for the Chicago Messiah because as much as you rend your garments about a small percentage of his policies, you love him and everything he stands for.

Good Solid B-Plus on June 6, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Oh, sorry. I forgot this part:

Who did you vote for in 2004?

Badnarik.
rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 2:22 PM

If you voted for Badnarik, that’s great. You voted your heart, and you aren’t responsible for support politicians that implemented or continue to implement these policies.

You aren’t aren’t responsible for supporting politicians that implemented or continue to implement any policies?

If that’s where you prefer to operate, that’s your prerogative.

I’m disappointed that Obama continues to implement, and in some places expand, the use of the Patriot Act. However, we live in a world of choices, and that was the choice that i was and am still comfortable making.

I, like most of America, am not a single issue voter.

segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:10 PM

You voted for the Chicago Messiah because as much as you rend your garments about a small percentage of his policies, you love him and everything he stands for.

Good Solid B-Plus on June 6, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Do you love everything about everyone you vote for? Have every politician you’ve voted for met all your desires and expectations? No, of course not.

segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:11 PM

only Verizon?

shinty on June 6, 2013 at 3:15 PM

rogerb,

Do you support tougher immigration laws, increased immigration enforcement, or a path for citizenship for current immigrants?

segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:18 PM

Do you love everything about everyone you vote for? Have every politician you’ve voted for met all your desires and expectations? No, of course not.

segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:11 PM

Never had the “privilege” of actually voting for a Presidential candidate who ended up winning. I imagine it’s a lot like rooting for the Yankees.

Good Solid B-Plus on June 6, 2013 at 3:36 PM

There was a time here on HA, back in the 2007-2008 period, when rational discussion was appreciated. But then “that (insert *comical* derogatory euphemism here)” was elected, and the lunatics took over the asylum. Every so often I come back to see if Allah and Ed have cleaned the site up, but I see that nothing has changed. *sigh*

Obama = Bush. He has upheld/extended almost all of Bush’s policies. The NSA ‘scandal’ began with the Bush Administration. Even Obamacare was a Republican idea –
http://tinyurl.com/GOP1993healthreformbill

Where once upon a time the Right was the side of common sense and decency, the Far Right has now become an even nastier version of the Far Left that we once reviled and railed against. In essence, an embarrassment.

pcbedamned on June 6, 2013 at 3:42 PM

However, we live in a world of choices, and that was the choice that i was and am still comfortable making.
 
I, like most of America, am not a single issue voter.
 
segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:10 PM

 

 You directly supported these infringements with your vote.
 
We did not.
 
Congratulations.
 
rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 1:06 PM

 
Did you vote in 2004?
 
segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 1:19 PM

 
Do you prefer high school, college, or pro goalposts, segasagez?

rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 3:48 PM

Where once upon a time the Right was the side of common sense and decency, the Far Right has now become an even nastier version of the Far Left that we once reviled and railed against. In essence, an embarrassment.

pcbedamned on June 6, 2013 at 3:42 PM

Your comment is actually more of an embarrassment than aything else I have read on HA…

jimver on June 6, 2013 at 3:50 PM

Do you prefer high school, college, or pro goalposts, segasagez?

rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 3:48 PM

How am I moving the goal posts? You are arguing that because a voted for a candidate who has implemented or continues to implement a particular policy, I support the policy.

I responded that I don’t vote based on one issue, and because of that, I support some of the policies that the people I vote for put forth but don’t support others.

How is that moving the goal posts?

segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

rogerb,
 
Do you support tougher immigration laws, increased immigration enforcement, or a path for citizenship for current immigrants?
 
segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:18 PM

 
If you’re trying to discuss illegal aliens then say it. Otherwise your question makes little sense.

rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

Do you prefer high school, college, or pro goalposts, segasagez?

rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 3:48 PM

Again, what’s your position on immigration?

segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

Back soon.

rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

If you’re trying to discuss illegal aliens then say it. Otherwise your question makes little sense.

rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

Fine. What’s your position on illegal aliens?

segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

1. Anybody who thinks the phone records came from just Verizon is an IDIOT.
2. Anybody who thinks that NSA is NOT also accessing ALL e-mail messages is an IDIOT.
3. Anybody who thinks that NSA is NOT also scanning ALL twitter messages is an IDIOT.
4. Anybody who thinks that DOJ/DHS and NSA are NOT also scanning ALL non-socialist extremist blogs is an IDIOT. (You’re safe here at mediiate, of course.)
5. Anybody who thinks that NSA is NOT also intercepting ALL text messaging is an IDIOT.

NB: the word “idiot” can be replaced by the phrase “OBOZO-supporting, d-cRAT socialist”.

TeaPartyNation on June 6, 2013 at 4:08 PM

If you’re trying to discuss illegal aliens then say it. Otherwise your question makes little sense.

rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

Fine. What’s your position on illegal aliens?

segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

I’m jump to the point. The fact that you use the term “illegal aliens” means you different with Badnarik on the issue, but you voted for him anyway in 2004. What does that make you?

segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 4:08 PM

You would never vote for a Democrat, no matter how atrocious the GOP candidate. Welcome to the 2 party system.

libfreeordie on June 6, 2013 at 3:00 PM

I’d vote for an Evan Bayh over a Lindsey Graham in a heartbeat.

Resist We Much on June 6, 2013 at 4:22 PM

But they’re only profiling conservatives and other terrorists, so it’s okay.
Right, Obama-bots?

DublOh7 on June 6, 2013 at 5:14 PM

Ya know, these bums could turn this into a good thing. Just for practice, identify all the robo-calling fiskers who are annoying almost all Americans and who are using the information they get for identity theft. If obama and his henchmen want to become really popular, take the data fusion information to identify these operations and then send in a domestic seal team (similar to ton ton macouts) to take them out and destroy them.

Old Country Boy on June 6, 2013 at 6:39 PM

I’m jump to the point. The fact that you use the term “illegal aliens” means you different with Badnarik on the issue, but you voted for him anyway in 2004. What does that make you?
 
segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 4:08 PM

 

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page here,
 
2013′s segasagez
 
is asking 2013 rogerb
 
about a 2004 rogerb position
 
that 2004 rogerb held nine years ago
 
in order to justify and distract from 2012′s segasagez’s
 
0.5 year ago position
 
in which 2012 segasagez directly supported this administration
 
and also directly supported their massive increase in domestic surveillance with his 2012 vote,
 
culminating in today’s 2013 Verizon thread discussing domestic surveillance as practiced by the administration
 
seven months after Obama’s re-election
 
that 2012 segasagez voted for
 
in 2012
 
and led us in a straight line to this moment
 
in 2013
 
under the current administration
 
that 2012 segasagez actively and willingly re-elected.

 
Is that about right?
 
Would you like to go back in time and ask 1976 rogerb some questions about when I voted for Carter, too?
 
How about 1991 rogerb what his favorite Japanese car was?

 
Say, weren’t you asking something about goalposts earlier?
 

Do you prefer high school, college, or pro goalposts, segasagez?
 
rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 3:48 PM

 
Again, what’s your position on immigration?
 
segasagez on June 6, 2013 at 3:52 PM

 
Well played. I especially liked the part where you quoted my goalposts post before your question about illegal aliens immigrants.

rogerb on June 6, 2013 at 7:26 PM

A dead thread, eh segasagez?
 
No more attempts at justifying casting your uninformed vote and showing your direct support of Obama’s expansion of domestic spying programs by attacking others?

rogerb on June 8, 2013 at 6:36 AM

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