The NSA’s sweeping collection of phone records

Someone has leaked to Glenn Greenwald a secret court order that shows that the Obama administration has obtained from Verizon detailed records of all its customers. The suspicions are that the government has obtained similar records from other phone companies as well.

Many might think that this is nothing new here but Greenwald explains why that is not so.

Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama.

The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual. 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.

The Guardian approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Department of Justice for comment in advance of publication on Wednesday. All declined. The agencies were also offered the opportunity to raise specific security concerns regarding the publication of the court order.

The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI’s request for its customers’ records, or the court order itself.

Jonathan Turley says that he has worked at the FISA court and the idea that it provides serious judicial review is laughable. It is largely a rubber stamp for the administration. Digby discusses the implications of this new revelation and Obama’s complete turnaround on secret surveillance.

One good thing about this story is that it indicates that the Obama administration’s efforts to intimidate whistleblowers and leakers has not been 100% successful. But you can bet that they will try to ferret out this leaker too. Whether they will also go after a high-profile critic like Greenwald remains to be seen. Although he is a US citizen, he lives in Brazil and writes for a British newspaper, which might complicate things. Not that the government cares about legal niceties, but it might create extra hurdles for them.

If enough leakers follow suit, we might be able to drown by sheer numbers the efforts to intimidate them.


  1. wtfwhatever says

    “As a first-term Illinois Senator turned president-elect once put it, “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled.”

  2. says

    So, basically the Obama administration went to the FISA court and asked them permission to do what the Bush administration did without permission. And, of course, it was granted. I suppose that’s better than the Bush approach of breaking the law then forgiving themselves for doing it -- but it represents a massive shift toward a police state either way.

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