US government secretly collecting phone records of all 121m Verizon customers

In a blockbuster story breaking last night, Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian disclosed that under a top secret court order, Verizon has been providing the entire phone records of all of its customers to the United States government since this past April.  The order specifies that the information will be provided by Verizon until July 19, 2013.

The Guardian posted a copy of the court order, stamped “TOP SECRET” on its Web site.  The document states that it is to be declassified on April 12, 2038.

Here is what the court specifically ordered:

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, the Custodian of Records shall produce to the National Security Agency (NSA) upon service of this Order, and continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this Order, unless otherwise ordered by the Court, an electronic copy of the following tangible things: all call detail records or “telephony metadata” created by Verizon for communications (1) between the United States and aborad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local calls.

The order goes on to explain that the data to be provided includes your phone number, the number you’re calling, any telephone calling card numbers, time and duration of the call, and some other identifying data.  The order does not cover the content of the calls.

eavesdropping spying privacy

Eavesdropping via Shutterstock

Still, as Glenn notes, they can put together a rather interesting overview of your life by looking at who you call, when you call, and the location you’re calling from.  That would mean, for example, that the US government has a list of the sources of every reporter in the United States who uses a Verizon cell phone, and has used that phone to communicate with a source between the dates covered in the court order.

Mind you, this is one court order.  We have no idea whether this is Verizon’s first, and whether other phone companies are involved.

All of this is reminiscent of the stories back in December of 2005, from the NYT, about Bush’s domestic spying conducted in cahoots with the phone companies.  During that scandal, AT&T was the company involved (or at least the one we knew about).  Having said that, at least this time they got a court order.  Last time, under the Bush administration, they didn’t even bother doing that.

Having said that, this is an amazingly broad court order, covering every single Verizon customer under the dates in question.  It makes me wonder what they told the judge to convince him to agree to this.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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