The U.S. National Security Agency is reported to be collecting the telephone records of millions of American customers of one of the nation’s largest phone companies, under a secret court order issued in April.
The order, first reported by Britain’s Guardian newspaper
, appears to require a subsidiary of Verizon to turn over “on a daily basis” all call logs, both within the United States and between the U.S. and other countries. The New York Times
and Washington Post
are also reporting the story, saying the order does not require Verizon to provide information on the content of calls.
Officials at the FBI and White House declined to comment, as did representatives with Verizon.
Reports say the court order falls under section 215 of the controversial domestic surveillance law, the Patriot Act. Section 215 made it easier for "business records" to be acquired by U.S. intelligence agencies.
The Patriot Act became law soon after the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida attacks against the United States, to enhance the powers of law enforcement agencies to track terrorism suspects.
Some lawmakers and civil liberty groups have been critical of the broad surveillance powers granted under the law.
In 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law a four-year extension of key provisions of the Patriot Act, including those allowing authorities to use roving wiretaps (electronic eavesdropping), conduct court-ordered searches of business records, and conduct surveillance of foreign nationals who may be acting alone in plotting attacks.
The Obama administration has been under fire recently after revelations that the U.S. Justice Department secretly obtained phone records from the Associated Press news agency in connection with a leak investigation.