Verizon phone surveillance

Privacy group calls NSA Verizon surveillance illegal

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EPIC - NSA: Verizon Phone Record Monitoring

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The Electronic Privacy Information Center Friday asked Congress to begin a series of oversight hearings on whether the National Security Agency's telephone surveillance scheme was legal. A letter PDF from the group says a secret court "went beyond its legal authority when it sanctioned a program of domestic surveillance unrelated to the collection of foreign intelligence. The disclosure of the court order, which The Guardian newspaper did late Wednesday , has roiled Washington, D. A series of congressional hearings could shift the debate to whether the Justice Department and the court's judges complied with the law or not.

Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who heads the intelligence committee, confirmed Thursday the Verizon phone surveillance had been in place for at least six years.

NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily

It is also unclear from the leaked document whether the three-month order was a one-off, or the latest in a series of similar orders. The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, about the scope of the Obama administration's surveillance activities. For roughly two years, the two Democrats have been stridently advising the public that the US government is relying on "secret legal interpretations" to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be "stunned" to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted.

Because those activities are classified, the senators, both members of the Senate intelligence committee, have been prevented from specifying which domestic surveillance programs they find so alarming.

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But the information they have been able to disclose in their public warnings perfectly tracks both the specific law cited by the April 25 court order as well as the vast scope of record-gathering it authorized. Julian Sanchez, a surveillance expert with the Cato Institute, explained: "We've certainly seen the government increasingly strain the bounds of 'relevance' to collect large numbers of records at once — everyone at one or two degrees of separation from a target — but vacuuming all metadata up indiscriminately would be an extraordinary repudiation of any pretence of constraint or particularized suspicion.

The law on which the order explicitly relies is the so-called "business records" provision of the Patriot Act, 50 USC section That is the provision which Wyden and Udall have repeatedly cited when warning the public of what they believe is the Obama administration's extreme interpretation of the law to engage in excessive domestic surveillance. In a letter to attorney general Eric Holder last year, they argued that "there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.

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Privacy advocates have long warned that allowing the government to collect and store unlimited "metadata" is a highly invasive form of surveillance of citizens' communications activities. Those records enable the government to know the identity of every person with whom an individual communicates electronically, how long they spoke, and their location at the time of the communication.

Such metadata is what the US government has long attempted to obtain in order to discover an individual's network of associations and communication patterns. The NSA, as part of a program secretly authorized by President Bush on 4 October , implemented a bulk collection program of domestic telephone, internet and email records.

These recent events reflect how profoundly the NSA's mission has transformed from an agency exclusively devoted to foreign intelligence gathering, into one that focuses increasingly on domestic communications. In the mids, Congress, for the first time, investigated the surveillance activities of the US government.

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