· What Big Ears You Have –
· NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily – Exclusive: Top secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over all call data shows scale of domestic surveillance under Obama –
Under the terms of the order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data and the time and duration of all calls. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP
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.
The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government’s domestic spying powers.
Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.
The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual. Fisa court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets.
The Guardian approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Department of Justice for comment in advance of publication on Wednesday. All declined. The agencies were also offered the opportunity to raise specific security concerns regarding the publication of the court order.
The court order 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.
“We decline comment,” said Ed McFadden, a Washington-based Verizon spokesman.
The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compels Verizon to produce to the NSA electronic copies of “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls”.
The order directs Verizon to “continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order”. It specifies that the records to be produced include “session identifying information”, such as “originating and terminating number”, the duration of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, and “comprehensive communication routing information”.
The information is classed as “metadata”, or transactional information, rather than communications, and so does not require individual warrants to access. The document also specifies that such “metadata” is not limited to the aforementioned items. A 2005 court ruling judged that cell site location data – the nearest cell tower a phone was connected to – was also transactional data, and so could potentially fall under the scope of the order.
While the order itself does not include either the contents of messages or the personal information of the subscriber of any particular cell number, its collection would allow the NSA to build easily a comprehensive picture of who any individual contacted, how and when, and possibly from where, retrospectively.
It is not known whether Verizon is the only cell-phone provider to be targeted with such an order, although previous reporting has suggested the NSA has collected cell records from all major mobile networks. It is also unclear from the leaked document whether the three-month order was a one-off, or the latest in a series of similar orders.
The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, about the scope of the Obama administration’s surveillance activities.
For roughly two years, the two Democrats have been stridently advising the public that the US government is relying on “secret legal interpretations” to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be “stunned” to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted.
Because those activities are classified, the senators, both members of the Senate intelligence committee, have been prevented from specifying which domestic surveillance programs they find so alarming. But the information they have been able to disclose in their public warnings perfectly tracks both the specific law cited by the April 25 court order as well as the vast scope of record-gathering it authorized.
Julian Sanchez, a surveillance expert with the Cato Institute, explained: “We’ve certainly seen the government increasingly strain the bounds of ‘relevance’ to collect large numbers of records at once — everyone at one or two degrees of separation from a target — but vacuuming all metadata up indiscriminately would be an extraordinary repudiation of any pretense of constraint or particularized suspicion.” The April order requested by the FBI and NSA does precisely that.
The law on which the order explicitly relies is the so-called “business records” provision of the Patriot Act, 50 USC section 1861. That is the provision which Wyden and Udall have repeatedly cited when warning the public of what they believe is the Obama administration’s extreme interpretation of the law to engage in excessive domestic surveillance.
In a letter to attorney general Eric Holder last year, they argued that “there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.”
“We believe,” they wrote, “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.
Privacy advocates have long warned 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 patterns. 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 begun by the Bush administration in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack.
The NSA, as part of a program secretly authorized by President Bush on 4 October 2001, implemented a bulk collection program of domestic telephone, internet and email records. A furor erupted in 2006 when USA Today reported that the NSA had “been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth” and was “using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity.” Until now, there has been no indication that the Obama administration implemented a similar program.
These recent events reflect how profoundly the NSA’s mission has transformed from an agency exclusively devoted to foreign intelligence gathering, into one that focuses increasingly on domestic communications. A 30-year employee of the NSA, William Binney, resigned from the agency shortly after 9/11 in protest at the agency’s focus on domestic activities.
In the mid-1970s, Congress, for the first time, investigated the surveillance activities of the US government. Back then, the mandate of the NSA was that it would never direct its surveillance apparatus domestically.
At the conclusion of that investigation, Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho who chaired the investigative committee, warned: “The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter.” Story Continued
· U.S. Is Secretly Collecting Records of Verizon Calls – WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is secretly carrying out a domestic surveillance program under which it is collecting business communications records involving Americans under a hotly debated section of the Patriot Act, according to a highly classified court order disclosed on Wednesday night.
The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in April, directs a Verizon Communications subsidiary, Verizon Business Network Services, to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis” to the National Security Agency all call logs “between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
The order does not apply to the content of the communications.
Verizon Business Network Services is one of the nation’s largest telecommunications and Internet providers for corporations. It is not clear whether similar orders have gone to other parts of Verizon, like its residential or cellphone services, or to other telecommunications carriers. The order prohibits its recipient from discussing its existence, and representatives of both Verizon and AT&T declined to comment Wednesday evening.
The four-page order was disclosed Wednesday evening by the newspaper The Guardian. Obama administration officials at the F.B.I. and the White House also declined to comment on it Wednesday evening, but did not deny the report, and a person familiar with the order confirmed its authenticity. “We will respond as soon as we can,” said Marci Green Miller, a National Security Agency spokeswoman, in an e-mail.
The order was sought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that regulates domestic surveillance for national security purposes, that allows the government to secretly obtain “tangible things” like a business’s customer records. The provision was expanded by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which Congress enacted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The order was marked “TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN,” referring to communications-related intelligence information that may not be released to noncitizens. That would make it among the most closely held secrets in the federal government, and its disclosure comes amid a furor over the Obama administration’s aggressive tactics in its investigations of leaks.
The collection of call logs is set to expire in July unless the court extends it.
The collection of communications logs — or calling “metadata” — is believed to be a major component of the Bush administration’s program of surveillance that took place without court orders. The newly disclosed order raised the question of whether the government continued that type of information collection by bringing it under the Patriot Act.
The disclosure late Wednesday seemed likely to inspire further controversy over the scope of government surveillance. Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies, a civil liberties advocacy group, said that “absent some explanation I haven’t thought of, this looks like the largest assault on privacy since the N.S.A. wiretapped Americans in clear violation of the law” under the Bush administration. “On what possible basis has the government refused to tell us that it believes that the law authorizes this kind of request?” she said.
For several years, two Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, have been cryptically warning that the government was interpreting its surveillance powers under that section of the Patriot Act in a way that would be alarming to the public if it knew about it.
“We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted Section 215 of the Patriot Act,” they wrote last year in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
They added: “As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”
A spokesman for Senator Wyden did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment on the Verizon order.
The senators were angry because the Obama administration described Section 215 orders as being similar to a grand jury subpoena for obtaining business records, like a suspect’s hotel or credit card records, in the course of an ordinary criminal investigation. The senators said the secret interpretation of the law was nothing like that.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act made it easier to get an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain business records so long as they were merely deemed “relevant” to a national-security investigation.
The Justice Department has denied being misleading about the Patriot Act. Department officials have acknowledged since 2009 that a secret, sensitive intelligence program is based on the law and have insisted that their statements about the matter have been accurate.
The New York Times filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in 2011 for a report describing the government’s interpretation of its surveillance powers under the Patriot Act. But the Obama administration withheld the report, and a judge dismissed the case. Story Continued
The Obama administration on Thursday defended its collection of a massive amount of telephone records from at least one carrier as part of U.S. counterterrorism efforts, re-igniting a debate over privacy even as it called the practice critical to protecting Americans from attacks.
The admission came after Britain’s Guardian newspaper published on Wednesday a secret court order related to the records of millions of Verizon Communications customers. The surveillance appears to have involved the phone records of millions of Americans.
Privacy advocates blasted the order as unconstitutional government surveillance and called for a review.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not specifically confirm the report, but noted the published court order pertains only to data such as a telephone number or the length of a call, and not the subscribers’ identities or the content of the telephone calls.
The order requires the government to turn over to the National Security Agency so-called “metadata” such as a list of numbers that called other U.S. or international numbers as well as other transactional information on the time and location of calls. The NSA is the main U.S. intelligence-gathering agency tasked with monitoring electronic communications.
“Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism 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,” the senior administration official said.
The revelation renewed concerns about the intelligence-gathering effort – criticized by human rights and privacy advocates – launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and raised questions about its oversight.
It also drew fresh attention to President Barack Obama’s handling of privacy and free speech issues. His administration already is under fire for searching Associated Press journalists’ calling records and the emails of a Fox News Channel reporter as part of its inquiries into leaked government information.
Verizon has declined to comment. It remains unclear whether the practice extends to other carriers, though several security experts and at least one U.S. lawmaker said that was likely.
AT&T Inc declined to comment. Representatives for other major carriers, including Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile, could not be immediately reached or had no immediate comment.
The three-month court order, dated April 25, directs Verizon’s Business Network Services Inc and Verizon Business Services units to hand over daily electronic data until July 19.
It was issued one week after U.S. law enforcement officials tracked down the two brothers accused of carrying out the deadly Boston Marathon bombing. Investigators in that case had been looking into calls made from their phones and had been searching for one brother’s laptop.
Another U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said this particular surveillance order was not necessarily issued in reaction to the April 15 bombing. A third official said some data collection was stepped up in the aftermath of that attack.
The April order expressly compels Verizon to turn over both international calling records and domestic records, and refers to mobile and landline numbers, according to the Guardian’s copy, which was labeled “top secret” and issued by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The four-page document does not lay out why the order was given or whether it was linked to any specific investigation.
Thursday’s admission highlights U.S. intelligence officials’ ongoing and controversial campaign of domestic surveillance launched under President George W. Bush’s administration after the 2001 attacks. A 2001 U.S. law known as the Patriot Act allows the FBI to seek an order to obtain “any tangible thing,” including business records, to gather intelligence.
‘ROBUST LEGAL REGIME’
Although the order revealed on Wednesday does not allow for the government to listen in on customer’s conversations, it still raises questions about what authorities hope to learn sorting through millions of transactions.
The senior administration official said that “there is a robust legal regime in place governing all activities” like the one outlined in the order and that “all three branches of government are involved in reviewing and authorizing intelligence collection.”
Terrorism financing expert Jimmy Gurulé said although the court did not need to find probable cause under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the order goes too far.
“The question is how the phone data of tens of millions of Americans is ‘relevant’ to a terrorism investigation. This is clearly an overreach by the NSA and an apparent rubber stamp by the FISA court,” said Gurulé, a former assistant U.S. attorney general and now a law professor at University of Notre Dame.
Additionally, it is also unclear how aware members of Congress were about the extent of the data collection.
Administration and congressional officials said that members of the House of Representatives and Senate intelligence committees had been briefed in detail about collection activities under the law on multiple occasions.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he was not concerned about the monitoring, which he said was more limited in scope, adding that he is also a Verizon customer.
“I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government if the government is going to make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist’s phone with somebody in the United States,” he told Fox News Channel. “I’m glad the activity is going on, but it is limited to tracking people who are suspected to be terrorists, and who they may be talking to.”
Still, some other lawmakers have expressed growing concern with broad intelligence gathering methods for years.
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has been critical of sweeping surveillance, declined to comment on the report but called on the White House “to respond immediately.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, among other groups, has called on Congress to investigate the scope of the effort, which it called “alarming” and “unconstitutional.”
“It’s a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents,” Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, said in a statement. Story Continued
– Now we know, the Democrats are as destructive as the Republicans. Perhaps we need to clean out Washington, D.C. and start over. PdC
Well, if it is Thursday, there must be a new Obama scandal. But one thing is for damn sure, whatever that scandal is, you can bet the American mainstream media will be playing catch up and not carrying the glory of breaking a story about a major White House scandal.
Fact: Over the past few weeks, four major scandals have broken over the Obama administration, and it is a very sad (and frightening) truth that our pathetic, American, lapdog mainstream media is not responsible for breaking even a single one.
Verizon? Nope, not our guys. That was the Brits over at The Guardian.
IRS? Nope, not our guys. The IRS broke their own scandal with a planted question.
The Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press phone records? Nope, not our guys. Believe it or not, the Associated Press didn’t even break that story. Like the IRS, we only found out because the Justice Department ousted itself in a letter notifying the AP of what it had done.
Benghazi? Are you kidding? With a couple of rare exceptions (Jake Tapper, Sharyl Attkisson) the media has spent the last 8 months attacking those seeking the truth (Congress, Fox News) not seeking the truth. It was the GOP congress that demanded the email exchanges around the shaping of the talking points, not the media.
Left up to the media, we wouldn’t know anything about Libya. All of the media’s energy was collectively poured into ensuring the truth was never discovered.
And do you want to know what makes this realization especially pathetic? In three of the four scandals (the AP being the exception), had our media been less interested in protecting Power and more interested in holding Power accountable, these huge, career-making stories were right there for their taking.
For over a year now, conservative Tea Party groups have been complaining about IRS harassment. But because Obama told them to, the media hate the Tea Party. So in the face of these complaints and even a few Congressional inquiries, the media either ignored the harassment reports or openly sided with the IRS.
Obviously, you can say the same about Libya. All the dots were there to connect: Security failures, two weeks of lies, the midnight arrest of some hapless filmmaker… But rather than connect the dots, the media played goalie for Obama against Fox News and Darrell Issa. Besides, there was a re-election to win and Todd Akin got something wrong about The Woman parts.
Moreover, there are still plenty of dots to connect about Libya. But the new SQUIRREL is OVERREACH and already the lapdogs are back in goalie formation.
As far as the Verizon story, members of Congress, specifically Democrat Senators Ron Wyden (OR) and Mark Udall (CO), have been hint-hint-wink-winking to the media that something is horribly amiss going back to December:
In a Senate floor speech in December, Wyden hinted at classified information he had received but could not share due to Senate rules that indicated the law “on Americans’ privacy has been real, and it is not hypothetical.”
“When the public finds out that these secret interpretations are so dramatically different than what the public law says, I think there’s going to be extraordinary anger in the country,” he told The Huffington Post the following month.
That is from today’s Politico report on the Verizon scandal. Apparently, Politico knew of this back in December but had all their investigative researchers digging into why those short-skirted Tea Partiers had it coming, so they missed another one of the biggest stories of the year.
Politico shouldn’t feel bad, though, because when it comes to missing the four biggest scoops of the Obama administration, they have plenty of lazy, lapdog, sycophant company in that department.
Our media is not only biased, it is an utter and complete failure and embarrassment. And although there are plenty of remaining table scraps to make meals out of, the media is already losing interest in the IRS, Libya, and AP scandals, but for only one reason–they are absolutely terrified of where they might lead.
During the Bush years, it was the New York Times, Washington Post and Sy Hersh breaking story after story after story about the White House. And yes, some of that reporting was–ahem –overreach, but at least Power knew it was being watched; our democracy was safe because an overzealous media is what you call a luxury problem.
Today, it is the complete opposite and the result is an administration run amok.
Get down on your knees and thank your Maker for conservative New Media, Roger Ailes, and for the few true liberals left in the media, like Glenn Greenwald–who works for the Brits. Story Continued
Welcome to the era of Bush-Obama, a 16-year span of U.S. history that will be remembered for an unprecedented erosion of civil liberties and a disregard for transparency. On the war against a tactic—terrorism—and its insidious fallout, the United States could have skipped the 2008 election.
It made little difference.
Despite his clear and popular promises to the contrary, President Obama has not shifted the balance between security and freedom to a more natural state—one not blinded by worst fears and tarred by power grabs. If anything, things have gotten worse.
Killing civilians and U.S. citizens via drone.
Seizing telephone records at the Associated Press in violation of Justice Department guidelines.
Accusing a respected Fox News reporter of engaging in a conspiracy to commit treason for doing his job.
Detaining terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, despite promises to end the ill-considered Bush policy.
Even the IRS scandal, while not a matter of foreign policy, strikes at the heart of growing concerns among Americans that their privacy is government’s playpen.
And now this: The Guardian newspaper reports that the National Security Agency is collecting telephone records of tens of millions of customers of one of the nation’s largest phone companies, Verizon.
If the story is accurate, the action appears to be legal. The order was signed by a judge from a secret court that oversees domestic surveillance. It may also be necessary; U.S. intelligence needs every advantage it can get over the nation’s enemies.
But for several reasons the news is chilling.
Verizon probably isn’t the only company coughing up its documents. Odds are incredibly strong that the government is prying into your telephone records today.
Issued in April, the NSA order “could represent the broadest surveillance order known to have been issued,” according to The Washington Post. “It also would confirm long-standing suspicions of civil liberties advocates about the sweeping nature of U.S. surveillance through commercial carries under laws passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”
This appears to be a “rubber stamp,” order, reissued every few months since 2001. As is the case with all government programs, the systematic snooping into your telephone records is unlikely to ever expire without public outcry.
Congress is full of hypocrites. Liberals who criticized Bush are less incensed with Obama. Republicans who bowed to Bush are now blasting Obama. The next time your congressional representative criticizes Obama for curbing civil liberties, ask if he or she would vote to repeal the Patriot Act, the post-911 law that handed unfettered power to the intelligence and military bureaucracies. Most won’t.
The Bush-Obama White House hates transparency. President George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, were justifiably criticized by Democrats (none more successfully so than Obama himself) for their penchant for secrecy. Obama promised that he would run history’s most transparent administration. By almost any measure, on domestic and well as foreign policies, Obama has broken that promise.
It is the lack of transparency that is most galling about the security versus civil liberties debate under Obama, because it shows his lack of faith in the public. Americans know a high level of secrecy and dirty work is needed to keep them safe. Most trust their president. Many approve of his job performance.
Still, they expect and deserve an open discussion about how to fight terrorism without undermining the Constitution.
Obama started that conversation with a recent address on the drone program, media leaks and the need to move American off a constant war footing. It was a compelling and well-considered argument for the balance he is claiming to strike.
But he made the speech under pressure, and reluctantly. It only came amid new revelations about the drone program and the disclosure of newsroom spying (the Guardian may well be in Obama’s sights next). Under Bush, the warrantless-wiretap program only stopped after it was publicly disclosed. In that way, the Guardian story is not a surprise, so why didn’t Obama long ago acknowledge, explain, and justify such an intrusion into privacy?
Obama has promised to adjust the drone and leaks investigation policies, essentially acknowledging that his administration had gone too far in the name of security. Do you believe him?
One thing we’ve learned about the Bush-Obama White House is that words don’t matter. Watch what they do. Story Continued