Revelations that the National Security Agency has been collecting call records for tens of millions of Verizon customers under a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) sparked an instant backlash on Thursday from civil liberties groups. The NSA’s data collection practices, first reported by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian, require Verizon “to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries” on a daily basis. While the NSA’s sweeping collections do not include audio recordings of actual telephone calls, they do include “the numbers of both parties on a call” along with “location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation was quick to pounce on the news and said that they’ve been protesting this sort of sweeping surveillance for the past several years.
“This type of untargeted, wholly domestic surveillance is exactly what EFF, and others, have been suing about for years,” the organization wrote on its blog. “There is no indication that this order to Verizon was unique or novel. It is very likely that business records orders like this exist for every major American telecommunication company, meaning that, if you make calls in the United States, the NSA has those records. And this has been going on for at least 7 years, and probably longer.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also reacted swiftly and called for a Congressional investigation into the NSA’s data collection practices.
“From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director. “It’s a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents. It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies.”
Even former vice president Al Gore got in on the action, calling the NSA program “obscenely outrageous” on his Twitter feed.
The revelations about the NSA’s collection of phone records come at a time when the Obama administration has come under fire for a wide range of scandals, including the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny when applying for nonprofit status and for the Justice Department’s heavy handed approach to investigation leaks.