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NSA secretly forcing Verizon to hand over customer records, Guardian reports



Union workers picket outside a Verizon Wireless store in San Francisco, Calif., on Aug. 9, 2011.


Justin Sullivan

Verizon Wireless has been providing the National Security Agency with logs of every phone call that its customers make in the United States, according to the Guardian.

A secret federal court ordered the communications giant to hand over to the NSA daily logs for all calls involving its customers in which one or both parties were physically located in the United States, the British publication revealed Thursday.

“The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19. Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.”

A copy of the April court order, signed by federal judge Roger Vinson, was published on the Guardian on its website.

The Washington Post showed the order to former government officials, who all agreed it looked authentic.

The Post also cited an independent expert who said the order appeared to be a routine renewal of a similar order first issued by the same court in 2006.

The expert reportedly said that the order was "reissued routinely every 90 days and that it is not related to any particular investigation by the FBI or any other agency.”

However, in an article headlined "NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily," the Guardian’s Greenwald wrote: 

"The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual."

Addressing questions of the legality of the NSA compelling a company to hand over records, the Associated Press wrote that it was relying on the USA Patriot Act which was passed in the wake of 9/11, more specifically focusing on the "business records" provision in the law.

Mashable, meanwhile, speculated that the release of this one top-secret court order may provide evidence of a "larger government-data-gathering regime, potentially involving numerous telecommunications providers.”

In January, the tech website wrote that Global law enforcement requests for Google user data were up more than 70 percent since 2009.

The Guardian requested comment from the White House, NSA and Justice Department on the story — which cites an unnamed source — but all three declined to comment.

NBC News, however, cited a senior Obama administration official defending the practice. The official, who spoke anonymously, said such information was "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats."

"On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls."