Some troubling news has crossed the desks of newsrooms everywhere. According to court order documents obtained by The Guardian, the National Security Agency (otherwise affectionately known as the NSA) has recently been granted full, unlimited access to several pieces of Verizon Communications subscriber data over the course of three months.
The court order gives the NSA a la carte access to information like who you’re calling, how long your calls last, your phone’s identification numbers, calling card numbers, location of each caller, and more. That includes “all call details 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.” As per the order:
Telephony metadata includes comprehensive communications routing information including but not limited to session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, International Mobile station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, etc.) trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call.
It’s worthy to note that the data does not include the contents of the conversation itself (something that would have caused quite the uproar, I’m sure). The order was made effective as of April 25th, which means the NSA has until late July to get anything and everything it wants about anybody and everybody using Verizon.
Foreign International Surveillance Court orders typically target specific, finite people suspected of participating in terrorist activities, so to have an order that sweeps the entirety of Verizon’s customer base is quite alarming and unusual.
Verizon customers might not be the only ones to have reason to be concerned. There very well may be orders for a wide variety of United States carriers to give up the same information. We might not ever know, but knowing just one of these carriers is being subject to shoveling this data to the NSA is quite worrisome.
According to The Guardian, the top secret order is so strict that Verizon isn’t even allowed to acknowledge that it exists, declining any sort of comment when asked about it. An unnamed White House official did decide to say a bit in response to questions regarding the order, but meandered around the question by saying the collection of records has always been “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats.” They also assured us that, “on its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls.” We can’t stamp that as a pure declaration of guilt and admittance, but take it for what you will.
We will, however, say that we’re getting quite tired of governments flexing their muscle every which way under the guises of “national security” and “the greater good.” Believe me, I want nothing more than to give our government the best tools to protect America, but there comes a point in time where you have to question just how far is far enough.
We’ve reached out to legal guru Jay Klimek, who you might remember has taken up a fight with Verizon regarding other matters (specifically, their “right” to block Google Wallet access despite the fact that their actions seem to directly violate Block C spectrum requirements set forth by the FCC).
We hope to get a better idea of what this means and whether or not the NSA has the right to collect anything and everything it wants about Verizon customers’ phone calls short of a full-on recording. In the meantime, let us know how you’re feeling about all of this in the comments section below.
[Update]: Just one point of clarification (as pointed out by David Ruddock): this order seems to pertain to Verizon Communications, which is not quite the same as Verizon Wireless, the mobile service which many of us use for our Android phones. Verizon Wireless is a joint-owned company by Verizon Communications and Vodafone. It’s possible this order, other unpublished parts of this order, or other separate orders apply to Verizon Wireless, but this specific order, as we know it, doesn’t specifically say this pertains to Verizon Wireless customer data.
We’ll be doing our best to get a better idea of who is subject to this, but with top secret classification and strict orders for Verizon and government officials not to acknowledge the order it may be difficult to gather anything concrete.
[via The Guardian]