NSA secretly orders Verizon to hand over millions of call records -- innocent & guilty

It sounds like something from the Cold War, but it is happening today. A top secret court order requires Verizon to hand over telephone records for millions of its subscribers to the NSA on an "ongoing daily basis". The order, in place since April this year, forces the telecom company to hand over a range of "tangible things" about phone calls placed within the US and to foreign countries.

This is not entirely unprecedented -- the recording of telephone data has long been used as a means of gathering intelligence during periods of war -- but this time things are a little different. Not only was the court order passed in secret, but there are no specific targets to the operation. It would be quite normal for the call of suspected terrorists or other criminals to be logged and recorded, but in this instance all phone calls are considered fair game.

While phone calls are not recorded in the sense of wiretapping, there is still a great deal of information that is stored about individual calls. The "telephony metadata" includes the phone numbers of all parties involved in a call, time and duration of calls, IMEI numbers in the case of mobile calls and other communication routing information.

The order is due to expire on July 19 2013 and this is the first time that the Obama administration has overseen the mass recording call data from innocent telephone users -- as far as we know at least.

Verizon is not able to comment on the order as the document prohibits the company from talking about either the existence of the order or the fact that the NSA has asked for customer records.

The fact that the order that has come to light is top secret raises an important question. If one of the largest telephone companies in the US is handing over call data to the NSA, how many other companies are doing the same? Conspiracy theorists have plenty of material with which to run wild here.

Does it matter that the data being recorded is essentially anonymized, or is that beside the point? If you're a Verizon customer, how do you feel about the court order? Would you move to a different phone provider to avoid this, or are you happy to accept it as part of modern life in the US?

The full order is available to view at the Guardian website.

Photo Credit: Steve Wood/Shutterstock

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