A huge privacy story broke today on The Guardian, revealing that the FBI and NSA are collecting all call information from Verizon users in the US. This is blanket surveillance that affects everyone, regardless of whether they’re suspected of any wrongdoing. Odds are extremely high that this is happening for other wireless providers too.
Almost all of these orders contain a gag order, which means that no one can talk about the order, despite the massive privacy violations it enables. The only reason we know about this one is because someone leaked it to The Guardian (read the full order here). In this case, Verizon couldn’t say anything about it; they just had to comply. Even US Senators couldn’t talk about it to the public; they could only hint at the privacy abuses going on.
The order requires “ongoing, daily” access to all call detail records for US Verizon users, whether they’re calling others in the US or people outside the country. The only calls exempt are those from foreigners to other foreigners.
What do they get? Enough to draw a detailed picture of who you called and where you were at the time:
- Your phone number
- The number of the person you’re calling
- Location data
- Unique identifiers, like your International Mobile Subscriber Identity number
- Phone calling card numbers
- Time and duration of all calls
We’ve seen time and time again that these smaller pieces of data about you may not be enough to identify you by themselves, but pieced together, they tell a clear story about you. Although the contents of the conversation itself are not covered, law enforcement can request wiretaps and more detailed surveillance for specific callers they’d like to examine more closely.
The top-secret order, which is still active today, covers the 3 months between April 25th and July 19th, 2013. Text on the order shows that it wasn’t supposed to be declassified until 25 years from now in 2038.
This sort of blanket surveillance became possible after 9/11 because of the Patriot Act, specifically the “business records” provision that allows the FISA court warrants for records without proving that those records are connected to terrorism. An attack on our country paved the way for our government to invade its own people’s privacy rights without restriction.
This news powerfully illustrates how ingrained private companies have become in government surveillance. These companies–companies you depend on for services–mine your data and hand it over to the government. They don’t even have a say in whether they do it because the laws are so restrictive. They can’t even talk about it.
Remember that the 4th Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, and this search seems pretty unreasonable. American people should be shocked. Current privacy laws just aren’t enough to protect people, and they need to change. Sign petitions, write your members of Congress, tell your friends, tell your wireless provider…go make a stink. This is unacceptable.