The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to gie 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
The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual
. Fisa court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets.
The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI's request for its customers' records, or the court order itself
While the order itself does not include either the contents of messages or the personal information of the subscriber of any particular cell number, its collection would allow the NSA to build easily a comprehensive picture of who any individual contacted
, how and when, and possibly from where, retrospectively.
It is not known whether Verizon is the only cell-phone provider to be targeted with such an order
, although previous reporting has suggested the NSA has collected cell records from all major mobile networks
. 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
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
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