Verizon Wireless has reportedly aided in the government’s spying efforts. The cell phone provider handed over millions of customer phone records to the National Security Agency with no questions asked.
The news was unearthed by the UK’s Guardian Wednesday (June 5), which posted the federal court order singed by United States Foreign Judge Roger Vinson on April 25.
On an “ongoing and daily basis” federal authorities sought the following from Verizon:
“Electronic copy of the following tangible things: all call detail records of ‘telephone metadata’ created by Verizon for communications between the United State and abroad, or wholly within the United States including local telephone calls.”
Data from calls made and terminated in foreign countries were not part of the order.
Verizon was also told to keep quiet:
No person shall disclose to any other person that the FBI or NSA has sought or obtained tangible things under this Order, other than to: (a) those persons to whom disclosure is necessary to comply with such Order, (b) an attorney to obtain legal advice or assistance with respect to the producer of things in response to the Order; or (c) other persons as permitted by the Director of the FBI or the Director’s designee. A person to whom disclosure is made pursuant to (a), (b), and c.
The Obama administration has neither confirmed more denied the allegation.
From NBC News:
Such information has been “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats,” a senior Obama administration official said.
While not confirming any particulars of the report, the administration official said that data such as that described in the article “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.”
Phone records are hardly the only way the government has turned to a large companies to invade the privacy of its users. Google gave the FBI Gmail records for James Rosen, a Fox News reported accused of engaging in espionage. A journalist from the Associated Press was also spied on, a practice which was defended by Attorney Gen. Eric Holder Wednesday. “It put the American people at risk, and that is not hyperbole,” Holder said referencing the plot to stop an alleged Al Qaeda bomb plot. “Trying to determine who was responsible for that, I think, required very aggressive action.”
While the government claims the tactics are for anti-terrorism efforts, in the case of Verizon given the large number of customer info given out, questions on federal privacy laws have been raised. However, only call data was seized by authorities, not phone conversations.