THE GUARDIAN: The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April. The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries. The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) 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. The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government’s domestic spying powers. Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA, but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama. The unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely unusual. Fisa court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets. The Guardian approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Department of Justice for comment in advance of publication on Wednesday. All declined. MORE
PHAWKER: At what point does the extreme measures taken to protect a free country render it no longer free? At this point.
MSNBC: The order cites Section 215 of the Patriot Act as justifying the request, but as Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the Washington Post, “Section 215 is written as if they’re going after individual people based on individual investigations.” Michael A. Mason, Verizon’s chief security officer, is a former FBI attorney who joined the Verizon in 2008, months before Congress retroactively legalized President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program with then-Senator Barack Obama’s support. Congress has previously passed up opportunities to compel public disclosure about the breadth of domestic surveillance operations. Last December, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkely of Oregon attempted to amend federal law to compel the government to disclose more about the secret intelligence court’s interpretations of the executive branch’s surveillance powers. His amendment was voted down 37-54, with only three Republicans in support. Another amendment, proposed by Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, would have compelled the NSA to give an estimate of how often the NSA ends up collecting information on Americans–a request the NSA had previously refused to fulfill on the Orwellian grounds that it would violate Americans’ privacy for the agency to disclose how often it spies on them. That amendment was also rejected, 43-52, with most Republicans in the chamber voting against. MORE
PREVIOUSLY: President Obama wants your favorite websites—Facebook and Google, and more —to revamp their systems so that government agents can easily plug into them via a backdoor and monitor your IMs, your DMs, your emails, and all the other communication you use on the Internet. Basically: He wants the Internet rebuilt, piece by piece, so the government can more easily spy on you. Charlie Savage outlines the proposal in today’s New York Times:
The new proposal focuses on strengthening wiretap orders issued by judges. Currently, such orders instruct recipients to provide technical assistance to law enforcement agencies, leaving wiggle room for companies to say they tried but could not make the technology work. Under the new proposal, providers could be ordered to comply, and judges could impose fines if they did not.
Under the proposal, officials said, for a company to be eligible for the strictest deadlines and fines — starting at $25,000 a day — it must first have been put on notice that it needed surveillance capabilities, triggering a 30-day period to consult with the government on any technical problems.
Such notice could be the receipt of its first wiretap order or a warning from the attorney general that it might receive a surveillance request in the future, officials said, arguing that most small start-ups would never receive either.
What’s the problem with Obama’s proposal?
• The underlying presumption that you only get to have the secrets that government allows you to keep. I haven’t built that room for the government in my house. I haven’t handed over the house keys to the FBI. Perhaps falsely, I feel secure in my surroundings. I understand the government’s interest in investigating crimes and terrorism, and I want the government to be successful at that endeavor. That doesn’t mean I have to actually put out a welcome mat, though. MORE
JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN: Protecting individual rights and liberties — apart from the right to be tax-free — seems barely relevant to candidates or voters. One man is primarily responsible for the disappearance of civil liberties from the national debate, and he is Barack Obama. While many are reluctant to admit it, Obama has proved a disaster not just for specific civil liberties but the civil liberties cause in the United States. Civil libertarians have long had a dysfunctional relationship with the Democratic Party, which treats them as a captive voting bloc with nowhere else to turn in elections. Not even this history, however, prepared civil libertarians for Obama. After the George W. Bush years, they were ready to fight to regain ground lost after Sept. 11. Historically, this country has tended to correct periods of heightened police powers with a pendulum swing back toward greater individual rights. Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities. Candidate Obama capitalized on this swing and portrayed himself as the champion of civil liberties.
However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the “just following orders” defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. […] In time, the election of Barack Obama may stand as one of the single most devastating events in our history for civil liberties. MORE