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US government collects Verizon customers' phone metadata ... So what?

Mark Gibbs | June 9, 2013
A top secret NSA program to collect ALL Verizon customers' call data isn't at all surprising.

Why is anyone surprised?! The strangest thing about the recent revelation by The Guardian newspaper in the UK of how the US government allowed secret monitoring of the phone calls of Verizon customers is how anyone could be surprised that this kind of thing is going on.

Behind the top secret collection program is one of the most secretive of the TLA (Three Letter Acronym) agencies, the NSA (the National Security Agency). The program was authorized by a literally top secret order of the very secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) on a top secret request from the FBI.

Why did the FBI make the top secret request rather than the NSA? That's not clear (it's probably a top secret), but I suspect it's because the NSA was setup to only deal with foreign intelligence so the FBI had to end run that little jurisdictional problem.

The top secret order was titled "IN RE APPLICATION OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION FOR AN ORDER REQUIRING THE PRODUCTION OF TANGIBLE THINGS FROM VERIZON BUSINESS NETWORK SERVICES, INC. ON BEHALF OF MCI COMMUNICATION SERVICES, INC. D/B/A VERIZON BUSINESS SERVICES."

The now no longer top secret order can be read on The Guardian's web site and was leaked to the paper by an undisclosed source who is probably going to wind up in big trouble if he's ever identified.

The top secret order signed in April required Verizon to hand over tangible things, specifically, metadata which the order defines as:

" ... comprehensive communications routing information, including but not limited to session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, International Mobile station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, etc.), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call."

This was for all national and international calls for the three months ending on the forthcoming July 19. Whether that includes text messages isn't clear, but I'd secretly bet it does.

But why is everyone so surprised? The Free Press described the revelation as "the government's shocking mass surveillance program," but this is old news. Not only has warrantless wiretapping been an open secret since the Bush era, but we also know the NSA has been up to this kind of intelligence gathering for years.  Moreover, we know that since 9/11 the NSA has been expanding its facilities and abilities at a rapid pace.

According to a Wired article, "[The NSA Is Building the Country's Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)][http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/]", the agency "has transformed itself into the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever created," and "the agency has undergone the largest building boom in its history, including installing secret electronic monitoring rooms in major US telecom facilities."

 

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