In early June 2013, The Guardian newspaper revealed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowed the US National Security Agency (NSA) to demand huge amounts of metadata from Verizon. The order specified that Verizon provide the information on an “ongoing, daily basis,” and encompassed the phone records pertaining to all of Verizon’s American customers, whether the communications are between US-based callers, or between a US caller and international caller.
Telephone Court Order
The order reveals 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 granted the order to the FBI, providing the government with unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period, ending July 19, 2013.
The order is unique in its broad demands and reveals that the NSA is amassing a hoard of metadata that includes:
- Phone numbers of both parties
- Duration of the conversation
- Time of the conversation
- Location data
- Telephone calling card numbers
- Unique identifiers pertaining to the phones
Although this order does not permit the NSA to listen to the conversation itself and also does not require Verizon to hand over the “name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer,” the metadata still offers more information about the phone calls of American citizens than most would be comfortable handing over. This disclosure will likely reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government’s domestic spying powers.
The order directs Verizon to produce records including “session identifying information,” such as originating and terminating number, “ duration of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number and “comprehensive communication routing information.
Such information is classed as “metadata,” or transactional information, rather than communications content. This means that it doesn’t require individual warrants to access. The document also specifies that such “metadata” is not limited to the aforementioned items.
The document also contains a gag order, preventing recipients from talking about the NSA’s demands. Gag orders have been the subject of much controversy. Just this March, a federal judge in California ruled that such gag orders are unconstitutional. When that ruling was made, the judge gave the government 90 days to appeal before the ruling took effect.
This particular order was issued mid-April and is set to expire late July. It is unclear whether other telecom companies have received similar notices. It is also unclear whether this is a one-time deal, or if such orders are recurring.
Privacy watchdogs have been saying for a long time 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 patters. 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, first begun by the Bush administration in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
In early June, The Guardian revealed that the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to demand huge amounts of metadata from Verizon. This article discusses the content of the court order, which proved – for the first time under the Obama administration – that the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
CIPP Exam Preparation
In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US), a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:
- Federal enforcement actions (I.B.e.)
- Access to communications (III.A.b.)
- National security and privacy (III.B.)