Report: NSA collecting phone records of Verizon customers - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Report: NSA collecting phone records of Verizon customers

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By Alastair Jamieson and Matthew DeLuca, NBC News

(NBC) - The White House is defending the practice of gathering cell phone records from American citizens while neither confirming nor denying a report that the NSA is collecting records from millions of Verizon customers.

The practice was first revealed by the British newspaper The Guardian on Wednesday, which obtained and published a highly classified court order that requires the production of "telephony metadata" by the telecommunications giant.

The order, marked "Top Secret" and issued by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court instructs Verizon to hand over data including all calling records on an "ongoing, daily basis".

Signed by Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in April, the order requires the "production of certain call detail records," and is set to expire on the evening of July 19, 2013. The order pertains to information including the phone numbers making and receiving the call, as well as the time the call was made and how long it lasts. It does not include the "name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer," according to the order.

The order "does not require Verizon to produce telephony metadata for communications wholly originating and terminating in foreign countries," according to the document.

News of the order, which has not been independently verified by NBC News, comes after the Obama administration has taken fire for a Justice Department subpoena of Associated Press phone records.

Attorney General Eric Holder told NBC News Wednesday that he has no intention of stepping down from his job despite calls by some congressional Republicans for his resignation, citing the AP seizure.

The order, which appears to compel Verizon to turn over the calling records, refers to mobile and landline numbers but not explicitly to whether the records are from commercial customers or individual consumers.

The FISA court order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, was granted on April 25 and good until July 19, The Guardian reported. The order compelled Verizon to produce to the NSA electronic copies of "all call detail records or telephony metadata created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad" or "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls," The Guardian said.

"Now that this unconstitutional surveillance effort has been revealed, the government should end it and disclose its full scope, and Congress should initiate an investigation," Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "This disclosure also highlights the growing gap between the public's and the government's understandings of the many sweeping surveillance authorities enacted by Congress."

The law on which the order explicitly relies is the "business records" provision of the USA Patriot Act.

Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, both Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a March 2012 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that most Americans would "stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act."

"As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows," the senators wrote in the letter. "This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn't know what its government thinks the law says."

The order is the first concrete evidence that U.S. intelligence officials are continuing a broad campaign of domestic surveillance that began under President George W. Bush and caused great controversy when it was first exposed, according to Reuters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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