Has the Government Been Snooping Through Verizon?

A shocking report from The Guardian about a top secret court order from the Obama administration to obtain the records of millions of U.S. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) customers, has the potential to re-spark controversy in the US over the breadth of the government’s domestic spying powers.

The report elucidates that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was granted the access back in April to require Verizon to hand over its customers’ telephone records to the National Security Agency, to help deter violence and terrorist threats. The order, granted April 25, is not only limited to telephone numbers, but also to location and duration of calls, as well as unique identifiers. It was signed 10 days after the Boston Marathon bombing, but the initial secret court order was obtained through a George W. Bush administration policy that began with the Terrorist Surveillance Program in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The order incited controversy then, and it is likely to do the same now.

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This is the first evidence that shows the NSA is still implementing parts of the “data-mining program” begun by the Bush administration in 2011. There was no indication that the Obama administration was adopting a similar program, but now, this report illustrates that the large-scale collection of call records by the NSA has continued under President Obama.

The order gives the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.  A point of contention lies in the power it grants to the NSA to collect telephone records “indiscriminately and in bulk — regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.” While orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court usually grant the FBI the power to target a specific individual or group of individuals who are suspected of being agents of terrorism, this order gives the NSA much more unlimited access, inciting anger from the masses who campaign for civil liberties.