A new scandal is breaking on Capitol Hill after a British newspaper discovered a top secret court order that is allowing the U.S. government to collect phone records from millions of Verizon customers, even those who are not suspected of any crime.
The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that according to documents discovered by The Guardian newspaper, a court order to obtain phone records was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and remains in force until July 19. It requires Verizon, one of the country’s largest telecommunications companies, to give the National Security Agency (NSA) information on all telephone calls of Verizon Business in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries. This data was to be handed over to the NSA on an “ongoing, daily basis.”
“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 Guardian reports.
“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.”
Civil liberties groups are also expressing outrage over the discovery.
Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, called the measure “beyond Orwellian.”
“From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It’s a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents,” Jaffer said in a statement to Fox News.
The new disclosure also confirmed fears expressed repeatedly over the last two years by Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-OR) and his colleague, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) about government actions that are infringing on the privacy of Americans.
The law on which the court order relies is the so-called “business records” provision of the Patriot Act, 50 USC section 1861 which Wyden and Udall claim have been subject to an extreme interpretation under the Obama administration that allows it to engage in excessive domestic surveillance.
Last year, the two sent a letter to embattled attorney general Eric Holder, who is currently under fire for misleading testimony regarding the seizing of reporters’ phone records, saying 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.
“Under the terms of the order, the phone numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as are location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered,” The Guardian said.
The contents of telephone calls cannot be revealed without a warrant.
The Obama administration defended its need to seize the phone records of U.S. citizens, saying that this information is “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats.”
© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace® http://www.womenofgrace.com