The National Security Agency was granted a top secret order forcing Verizon to turn over all of its US customers' phone records over a three-month period according to The Guardian, who published the full court order on Wednesday. Documents reveal that one of Verizon's subsidiaries is obligated to give the NSA all "telephony metadata" between the end of April through the end of July — all in the name of national security.
The Obama administration was in hot water not too long ago over a similar seizure of call information. The Justice Department recently secretly subpoenaed months' worth of the Associated Press's phone records.
Whether or not the collection of private information is "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats," as The White House claims, is still up for debate. Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), told reporters a domestic terror attack was thwarted as a result of the order — but details on the nature of the attack are slim.
How, as a US citizen, Verizon customer, and phone caller, does all of this affect you? Here's what you need to know about who's involved, how this happened, and what exactly is being collected.
Who Is Involved?
- NSA — The National Security Agency, also known as the Central Security Service, is a federal agency under the US Department of Defense charged with communications intelligence and security, both domestic and foreign. Its activities are typically highly classified, and widespread domestic surveillance by this agency is not unprecedented.
- FISA Court — The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which presides over matters regarding surveillance of American citizens, permanent residents, or foreign powers. The FISA Court granted the secret order on April 25, giving the FBI and NSA access to Verizon's data.
- Verizon Business Network Services — This is the subsidiary of Verizon specifically targeted by the court order. It is a Virginia-based company that provides local and long-distance voice, messaging, and Internet access services to residential customers, businesses, communication wholesales, federal, state, and local governments.
- The White House — The Obama administration defended the practices but did not confirm the specific NSA order. The Rep. Mike Rogers did, however, say the NSA surveillance of phone records was used to thwart a "significant case" of terrorism within the last few years.