Report: Secret court order gives US access to Verizon call records

The order gives the National Security Agency access to phone records and related data.

The U.S. National Security Agency has been allowed by a court order to collect phone records of a large number of customers of Verizon, according to a report in the Guardian on Thursday.

The April 25 order from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington, D.C., requires Verizon to produce call records or "telephony metadata" on an ongoing daily basis, according to the British newspaper, which published what it said was a copy of the order.

The metadata includes communications routing information such as session-identifying information, trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call, according to the document. It will not, however, contain the content of a communication, or the name, address, and financial information of the customer.

The authorization expires on July 19, and the order can only be declassified by April 2038.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was set up in 1978 by the U.S. Congress as a special court to review applications for warrants related to national security investigations.

The order by Judge Roger Vinson also rules that the contents of the order or information that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the NSA has sought the authorization should be disclosed only to authorized persons as defined by the court.

The requirement to turn in metadata applies to calls within the U.S., and calls between the U.S. and abroad, and does not cover communications wholly originating or terminating outside the U.S.

"There is no indication that the order to Verizon was unique or novel," said online rights group, Electronic Frontier Foundation in a blog post. Orders like the one published by the Guardian could exist for every major U.S. telecommunications company, it added.

"This type of untargeted, wholly domestic surveillance is exactly what EFF, and others have been suing about for years," EFF said.

"In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?" former U.S. Vice President Al Gore wrote in a Twitter message, referring to the report in the Guardian.

NSA could not be immediately reached for comment.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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