Britain's The Guardian released a report on Wednesday that the National Security Agency has been compiling call data from millions of Verizon subscribers in the USA thanks to a secret court order. A copy of the court order was also posted on The Guardian's website the same day.
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.
The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.
Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.
Despite the fact that the order came from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the call records from millions of American citizens are included in the NSA's data logs. That basically means that despite the order originating from FISA, the NSA's PRISM program monitored the phone records and internet usage of millions of Americans who have not been accused of any crimes.
As recently as March, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied any knowledge of government agencies collecting electronic data of millions of Americans.
In March, DNI Clapper specifically told me #NSA does not wittingly collect any type of data on millions of Americans youtu.be/QwiUVUJmGjs?t=…
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) June 6, 2013
President Obama defended the NSA's surveillance program in public remarks on Friday. The President seemed pretty dismissive overall regarding any concerns about intrusive government snooping into citizens' phone calls and online browsing.
Interstingly, Verizon [NYSE: VZ] being ordered to turn over their subscriber's records activities to the government hasn't adversely affected their share prices. In fact, shares of Verizon gained nearly 4% since The Guardian broke the story. This may be due to the fact that the massive scope of the NSA's PRISM project alone would indicate that other communications companies are being ordered to turn over their records to the government.