According to a top secret court order, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting millions of phone records from Verizon customers in the US.
The Guardian newspaper obtained copies of the document whereby the FBI had requested access to information running from April to July of this year. Experts appear to have agreed upon the document’s authenticity.
According to the order, Verizon (America’s second largest telephone company) must provide information on the number dialled, location, duration and frequency, but not the content of calls.
The order cites the 2000 Patriot Act, passed shortly after 9/11, to access business records. A 2008 law gives immunity to companies which comply with government requests.
In the America the Center for Constitutional Rights said:
“As far as we know this order from the FISA court is the broadest surveillance order to ever have been issued: it requires no level of suspicion and applies to all Verizon subscribers anywhere in the U.S. It also contains a gag order prohibiting Verizon from disclosing information about the order to anyone other than their counsel.”
The Obama administration has acknowledged that it is collecting the data with a senior official speaking anonymously saying the phone records are a ‘critical tool’ to protect the US from ‘terrorist threats’. A formal response has yet to be delivered.
It is unclear how the data is being used. According to past examples, the data will be run through software to find connections between people the agencies consider terrorist suspects and their associates.
The news has raised further concerns over violation of privacy and First Amendment rights.
Obama’s government has also been criticised over accessing phone calls of journalists from The Associated Press recently.