Under the auspices of the Patriot Act, the U.S. government has secretly been collecting Verizon (NYSE:VZ) call records since April, according to a top secret court order published by The Guardian yesterday.
The order gives the National Security Agency open access to Verizon's Business Network Services call logs "on an ongoing daily basis." The Guardian report says that although the Patriot Act has been used previously, this newest order represents "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 White House offered no immediate on-the-record comment. A senior administration official did not confirm the Guardian newspaper report that the NSA has been collecting the records, but the authenticity of the document was not disputed by the White House. The administration official said, "On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone's telephone calls."
Although the content of calls can't be collected under the order, according to a New York Times report, it enables the U.S. government virtually unlimited access to domestic and international call metadata (phone numbers, call location, call duration, etc.) from mid-April to mid-July.
Verizon, for its part, was (and is) forbidden from disclosing any information regarding the court order, according to the Times report. Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said Wednesday the company had no comment. The NSA had no immediate comment.
The order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19, the Guardian reported Wednesday. Verizon Communications Inc. listed 121 million customers in its first-quarter earnings report this April -- 98.9 million wireless customers, 11.7 million residential phone lines and about 10 million commercial lines. The court order didn't specify which customers' records were being tracked.
-- Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.