Obama spying on millions of telephone calls: Report
In this April 15 photo taken from the White House’s official web site, US President Barack Obama talks on the phone with FBI Director Robert Mueller.The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has pursued wide-scale monitoring of the telephone records of millions of Americans during the Barack Obama administration, according to a secret court order obtained and published by the daily Guardian’s website.
The order marked “Top Secret” and issued by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court directs Verizon’s Business Network Services Inc. and Verizon Business Services units to hand over electronic data including all calling records on an “ongoing, daily basis” until the order expires on July 19, 2013.
Signed by Judge Roger Vinson at the request of the FBI, the order covers each phone number dialed by all customers and location and routing data, along with the duration and frequency of the calls, but not the contents of the communications.
The disclosure comes as the Obama administration is already under fire on other privacy and First Amendment issues. In particular, it is being criticized for a search of Associated Press journalists’ calling records and the emails of a Fox television reporter in leak inquiries.
“The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing,” the report said.
Officials at the NSA declined immediate comment while the White House admitted yesterday it is collecting telephone records of U.S. citizens, by saying it is “critical tool against terrorist threat.” Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden declined to comment. Verizon is the second biggest U.S. telephone company behind AT&T in terms of revenue. Verizon’s biggest rival, AT&T Inc, did not provide any immediate comment when asked if the government had made a similar request for its data. “That’s not the society we’ve built in the United States,” said Kurt Opsahl, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is suing the NSA over surveillance inside the country. “It’s not the society we set forth in the Constitution, and it’s not the society we should have.”
First concrete evidence
The order expressly compels Verizon to turn over both international calling records and strictly domestic records, and it forbids disclosure of the order’s existence. It refers to mobile and landline numbers, though not explicitly to Verizon’s consumer business.
The order is the first concrete evidence that U.S. intelligence officials are continuing a broad campaign of domestic surveillance that began under President George W. Bush and caused great controversy when it was first exposed.
In 2005, the New York Times reported that the NSA was wiretapping Americans without warrants on international calls.
Los Angeles Times and USA Today later reported that the agency also had unchecked access to records on domestic calls. Privacy lawsuits against the government are continuing, though cases filed against the phone carriers were dismissed after Congress passed a 2008 law immunizing the companies that complied with government requests.
The new order cites legal language from the 2001 U.S. Patriot Act, passed soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, that allows the FBI to seek an order to obtain “any tangible thing,” including business records, in pursuit of “foreign intelligence information.”