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The Guardian: Verizon has been giving all of the company's US phone records to NSA

In this Oct. 26, 2009 file photo, a Verizon Wireless store is seen in Glendale, Calif.
In this Oct. 26, 2009 file photo, a Verizon Wireless store is seen in Glendale, Calif.
Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press

For more than a month, Verizon Wireless has regularly provided the National Security Agency with logs of every phone call that Verizon Wireless customers make in the United States, according to a new report by British publication The Guardian.

Several weeks ago a secret federal court apparently created a three-month window that’s still ongoing, and which compels Verizon to hand over to the NSA daily logs for all calls involving its customers in which one or both parties are physically located in the United States.

“The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19,” The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald reported. “Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.”

The Guardian published on its website a copy of the April court order signed by federal judge Roger Vinson. National security reporter Ellen Nakashima of The Washington Post subsequently showed that document to several experts and former government officials, who all agreed The Guardian’s copy of the alleged court order has every appearance of authenticity.

Nakashima wrote for The Washington Post: “The (Guardian) website reproduced a copy of the order, which two former U.S. officials told The Washington Post appears to be authentic. … An expert in this aspect of the law said Wednesday night that the order appears to be a routine renewal of a similar order first issued by the same court in 2006. The expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues, said that the order is reissued routinely every 90 days and that it is not related to any particular investigation by the FBI or any other agency.”

“The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual,” The Guardian’s Greenwald further reported. “FISA court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets.”

Tech website Mashable speculated that the release of this one top-secret court order may actually create significantly more questions than it answers: “It's unclear how deep this particular rabbit hole goes. This leaked Verizon document may be the sole FISA order of its breadth and magnitude, or it may be the first publicly seen evidence of a larger government-data-gathering regime potentially involving numerous telecommunications providers.”

“The law on which the order explicitly relies is the ‘business records’ provision of the USA Patriot Act,” The Associated Press reported.

Prior to publishing its article Wednesday evening, The Guardian requested comment from the White House, NSA and Justice Department — but all three organizations declined to speak on the matter.

The Guardian’s source for the leaked court order remains unknown. The document — which was supposed to have remained classified until April 12, 2038 — expressly stipulates, “No person shall disclose to any other person that the FBI or NSA has sought or obtained tangible things under this Order.”

Reporting for Forbes, Andy Greenberg wrote, “Though the classified, top-secret order comes from the FBI, it clearly states that the data is to be given to the NSA. That means the leaked document may serve as one of the first concrete pieces of evidence that the NSA’s spying goes beyond foreigners to include Americans, despite its charter specifically disallowing surveillance of those within the United States.”