National Security Agency collecting phone records of millions of Americans

The National Security Agency is collecting communication records of millions of American citizens under a court order signed by a judge sitting on the FISA court.

The order pertains to a subisidiary of Verizon, but it is suspected that all major US carriers have their own FISA court order.

New York Times:

The Obama administration is secretly carrying out a domestic surveillance program under which it is collecting business communications records involving Americans under a hotly debated section of the Patriot Act, according to a highly classified court order disclosed on Wednesday night.

The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in April, directs a Verizon Communications subsidiary, Verizon Business Network Services, to turn over "on an ongoing daily basis" to the National Security Agency all call logs "between the United States and abroad" or "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls."

The order does not apply to the content of the communications.

Somehow, that's hardly reassuring.

The four-page order was disclosed Wednesday evening by the newspaper The Guardian. Obama administration officials at the F.B.I. and the White House also declined to comment on it Wednesday evening, but did not deny the report, and a person familiar with the order confirmed its authenticity. "We will respond as soon as we can," said Marci Green Miller, a National Security Agency spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

The order was sought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that regulates domestic surveillance for national security purposes, including "tangible things" like a business's customer records. The provision was expanded by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which Congress enacted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The order was marked "TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN," referring to communications-related intelligence information that may not be released to noncitizens. That would make it among the most closely held secrets in the federal government, and its disclosure comes amid a furor over the Obama administration's aggressive tactics in its investigations of leaks.

The collection of call logs is set to expire in July unless the court extends it.

The only question I have is, why the overkill? Does it really assist intelligence gathering if millions of records are scanned for anything useful? I suppose it's one of those things that if the government has the capability to scan everyone's communciations, why not make use of the technology?

Actually, it doesn't worry me that some dumb brute of a supercomputer takes a millionth of a second to scan any of my phone records for keywords or data patterns and then spits it out never to have access to it again.

I worry about that dumb brute of a computer making a mistake - or the human operator - and sticking my records into a "to be dealt with later" file that might result in unwanted attention from the feds.

It's all been done nice and legal like. But that doesn't make it right and if there is an implied right of privacy in the Constitution, this activity certainly violates it.

If the Obama administration was worried about leaks before, they must be having a cow over this one. This is a mega-leak - "one of the most closely held secrets" in government. I have mixed feelings about the person who gave this court order to the Guardian. It may have been someone from Verizon, but on rare occassions in the past, an NSA employee has leaked to the press. This is extraordinary dangerous for that employee because the penalties for leaking classified information are very stiff.

Whoever leaked the story is in serious trouble. But it was probably the right call.