CRF Blog

FISA Court Order and Verizon

by Damon Huss

Yesterday, The Guardian newspaper reported that a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court approved a secret court order to have the Verizon company turn over records of phone calls of its users for a three-month period beginning April 25. The order covered millions of Verizon customers.

The data collected would include the phone numbers of those making and receiving calls, the time and duration of calls, and location data. This data is called metadata, which does not include the names of callers or the content of the phone calls.

Glenn Greenwald, a political columnist at The Guardian, obtained a copy of the secret court order from an as-yet un-named source. He writes:

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing. [more]

Charlie Savage and Edward Wyatt report at the New York Times that the court order is actually routine, according to Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA):

Responding to the disclosure on Wednesday night of a highly classified court order to a subsidiary of Verizon Communications seeking all of its customers’ communications logs, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Democrat and Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said the order appeared to be a routine reauthorization as part of a broader program that lawmakers have long known about.

“As far as I know, this is exact three-month renewal of what has been the case for the past seven years,” Ms. Feinstein said, adding that it was carried out by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court “under the business records section of the Patriot Act. Therefore, it is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress.” [more]

PolitiFact has published the contents of two letters sent from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in which they outline their concerns about the FISA courts’ interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. In their letter dated March 15, 2012, they write:

We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act. As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says. [more]

Politico reports that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) approves of the FISA court’s order to collect the metadata:

“I’m glad the NSA is trying to find out what the terrorists are up to overseas and in our country,” Graham said Thursday morning on “Fox & Friends.”

“I’m a Verizon customer. I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government if the government is going to make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist phone with somebody in the United States. I don’t think you’re talking to the terrorists. I know you’re not. I know I’m not. So we don’t have anything to worry about.” [more]

What are your thoughts? Please add to the comments section.