The government obtained a secret court order to collect records about all the phone calls of a Verizon subsidiary’s customers over a three-month period, according to multiple reports today.
“This is a truly stunning revelation,” Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told The Washington Post. “This suggests that the government has been compiling a comprehensive record of Americans’ associations and possibly even their whereabouts.”
The secret court order was issued under section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which allows the government to obtain records and other “tangible things” that are relevant to an authorized foreign intelligence or international terrorism investigation. On its face, section 215 doesn’t seem to authorize dragnet collection. For years, however, various senators who are privy to classified information (including Senators Wyden and Udall and former Senator Feingold) have sounded the warning that section 215 is being interpreted and applied in a way that would shock Americans.
“The Verizon order confirms that the government has interpreted the Patriot Act to allow dragnet collection of Americans’ telephone records,” says Goitein. “This is highly personal information that can reveal a person’s contacts, associations, and movements. There’s no excuse for collecting this type of information outside of a targeted investigation. The fact that the FISA Court approved this strained interpretation of the Patriot Act illustrates the shortcomings of secret courts and secret law.”
Watch Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program, discuss the story on Wall Street Journal Live: