Secret Order Forces Verizon|to Release Phone Data to NSA

     (CN) – Verizon has been forced to give “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata'” of U.S. customers placing international, domestic and local calls to the National Security Agency, a top secret order published by the Guardian revealed.
     The document came to light in a report by civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald, who is a columnist for the Guardian but published the document as part of a news story.
     U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Roger Vinson’s order, signed on April 25 this year, expires on July 19 and barred the parties from disclosing the court’s directive.
     It exempts the “substantive contents of any communication,” and the “name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer” from release to the NSA.
     Brett Kaufman, a national security fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union, called it “kind of ludicrous” to believe that the government could not glean the restricted information from the data Verizon has been forced to provide.
     He explained in a phone conversation that he understood “telephony metadata” to include routing information such as the telephone number and the identification numbers of hardware one is using, servers that the calls pass through and calling card information, if such a card is used.
     “It is common for location data to be part of the metadata,” Kaufman said.
     He noted that the purpose for accessing the information from a law enforcement perspective is to identify the callers.
     The ACLU and its digitally minded doppelganger, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, each have urged their members to step up activism to protect civil liberties in light of the revelations.
     A petition that the ACLU circulated already has nearly 5,000 signatures, which would complete its goal.
     Unlike the Associated Press expose of a similar probe against its newsroom, the Guardian’s story will likely make the civil liberties issue “very personal for every single American,” Kaufman said.
     He said there’s some speculation that the Verizon order is part of a “much larger program.”
     Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reportedly downplayed the report by saying that the program has been ongoing throughout the Bush and Obama administrations.
     “Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn’t anything that’s brand new – it’s been going on for seven years,” Reid said.
     The AP, whose reporters recently became the subject of a government probe of their telephones, reported that anonymous White House sources defended the dragnet as necessary to defend the country from terrorism.
     The government and the telephone giant reportedly have refused to officially acknowledge that the order is authentic.
     A Verizon spokesman declined to comment.
     Randy Milch, the company’s executive vice president and general counsel, distributed an email telling Verizon employees he had no comment about the Guardian’s story.
     “Verizon continually takes steps to safeguard its customers’ privacy,” the email stated. “Nevertheless, the law authorizes the federal courts to order a company to provide information in certain circumstances, and if Verizon were to receive such an order, we would be required to comply.”

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