For the past three months, Verizon has handed over information on all telephone calls within its system to the U.S. government. This news, which broke last night thanks to a leaked court document, is a big story, but it isn't exactly a surprising one.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group dedicated to the protection of fundamental rights online, has long suspected this kind of broad surveillance. Last summer, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), hinted that the government has broader surveillance powers than people suspect. The agencies doing the surveillance all fall under the executive branch, but congress has the power of oversight. Last December, Congress voted to extend the act granting this broad surveillance power until at least 2017.
What that all means: While the actual Verizon surveillance story is news, it's hardly unanticipated, and it falls into a much larger pattern of increased governmental surveillance powers post-9/11.
It also means that all of this is legal. The FBI had a warrant for the records it requested from Verizon, and, rather than break the law, Verizon obliged. Not everything was turned over to the government: Phone calls themselves are well protected by legal precedent, and obtaining warrants to listen to a tremendous amount of calls is much harder. Instead, the government asked for phone call metadata, which is kept and maintained by telecommunications companies. The metadata includes the time the call took place, the call origin, the call duration, and the carrier. In cellphones, it also includes the cell towers that transmitted the call, giving a rough approximation of the callers' physical location.
This information is all vulnerable because of a legal precedent set back in 1979. Phone call records were deemed not part of the protected private information of an individual, but instead the property of the telephone company. This problem resurfaced last month, when the Associated Press reported that the Department of Justice subpoenaed the call records for many of their writers as part of an ongoing leak investigation. It was a perfectly legal way for the government to obtain that information, but gathering metadata from calls is far more revealing now than it was in the 1970s.
Niraji Chokshi and Matt Berman note:
It's conceivable that the National Security Agency is using this information from Verizon to track and identify every individual from their phone records. But that's a time- and data-intensive project. The request from Verizon dates to April 19, the date the surviving Boston bomber was arrested in Watertown, Mass. If there is a specific terrorist the NSA is trying to find, plotting the location of every single person by their phone records is the functional equivalent of combining a dozen haystacks into one great big pile with the hope of finding the one needle.
More likely is that this is a collection boon for general big data projects. The NSA has been mining phone records on a large scale since at least 2006, and a data set in the millions provides a tremendous resource for finding and discerning new patterns.
What new patterns? The NSA, by and large, has a mandate to collect intelligence on foreign communications and "foreign signals intelligence," which for our purposes involves electronic communication. There's a tremendous amount of information in the communications they regularly intercept, but because their focus is foreign, there's no clear control group for domestic communications that's different. The tremendous amount of data contained in the Verizon records gives the NSA a largely domestic data set to work with, and then new information to refine their intelligence collection process. It gives them a baseline.
The Verizon data collection is fascinating tool set for spooks. Though perfectly legal, it's based on a 1970s understanding of phone record privacy. And the way it's going to be used is all 21st century.
So, NSA can find out who the foreign terrorists are talking to?
Hope they are not trying to find out where my mother is playing bingo at or selling Mary cosmetics to.
Also Revealed by Verizon Leak: How the NSA and FBI Lie With Numbers. By Kevin Poulsen 06.06.13 4:53 PM
The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say). By James Bamford 03.15.12 7:24 PM
Use These Secret NSA Google Search Tips to Become Your Own Spy Agency. By Kim Zetter 05.08.13 2:37 PM
Former NSA Official Disputes Claims by NSA Chief. By Kim Zetter 07.29.12 2:25 PM
NSA’s Super-Secure Database Dodges Bullet From Senate. By Cade Metz 12.20.12 6:30 AM
Big brother's watching, always, he knows where you ate dinner last night and who your friends are on face book and which comments you left on youtube. He is much more intimate than anything orwell could immagine.
Uncle Sam is more creepy than a pedophile in a playground.
Truly frustrated with you popsci. I mean, I understand the concept you got going here, that your a POPULAR science magazine so you have to be true to your name and talk about "popular" topics. So I can excuse you somewhat for not mentioning dozens of science stories that are written daily on other scienece sites. But there is also a second word in your name: "SCIENCE"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Today's magic is tomorrow's technology.
Oh and by the way. I have extensive Virus and malicious software protection on my computer. Yet for the past three days, when I click on "Preview comment" at the bottom of this textbox, I am re-routed to a spam page. My Norton 360 has identified those web pages as attacks by some Trojan bug or other. So heads up dudes!! Your post it links have been high-jacked.
You guys are truly f*kin up one of my favorite websites. I would go into the multiple errors you have on this Verizon story since it contradicts certain points mentioned on other the real news sites, but I already gave you one freebee.
Today's magic is tomorrow's technology.
Who is a potential sinner?
Everyone potentiallly can be a sinner.
Who is a potentional terrorist?
You can be a potentional terrorist.
We the USA government have to monitor YOU!
Who is you, everyone is YOU and we the USA
government must keep our taps on YOU!
Now we the USA government have justified ourselves
become bigger and control of everyone. Now
is the time to round up and control all the sheep.
Its not a time and data intensive project to track and identify everyone when you have several of the worlds most powerful supercomputers...
Exactly how personal the data is, is not the point. This is a violation of privacy at a massive scale, justified by a fear of terrorist and phone regulations written in the '70's. This is inconspicuous, undiscriminating government surveillance at a national level - are we suppose to just be OK with that? As soon as the government can see it, they want to touch it, and then they want to keep it.
It is not just Verizon, its not just the NSA and FBI, and it is not just "simple data points". The U.K.'s GCHQ has access to the same data collected by the NSA, and that includes photo's, videos, and emails. All in the name of hunting bad guys, all at the expense of people's privacy rights. It is absolutely revolting, that good men and women die every day to protect our rights and the spineless, gutless crooks who should be on the front lines getting shot continuously demonstrate such complete and utter disregard.
It cost over 10 billion a year to operate NSA facility; perhaps much more. This program has to much free will and power.
The UK is also in partnership with this.
While it first appears they are looking for terrorist, the terrorist are to minor in comparison of the Earth and their effects.
They are search for someone on Earth that does not belong and are using Earthly communications.
Sᴛᴀʀᴛ ᴡᴏʀᴋɪɴɢ ᴀᴛ ʜᴏᴍᴇ ᴡɪᴛʜ Gᴏᴏɢʟᴇ! Iᴛ's ʙʏ-ғᴀʀ ᴛʜᴇ ʙᴇsᴛ ᴊᴏʙ Iᴠᴇ ʜᴀᴅ. Lᴀsᴛ Mᴏɴᴅᴀʏ I ɢᴏᴛ ᴀ ɴᴇᴡ Aʟғᴀ Rᴏᴍᴇᴏ ғʀᴏᴍ ʙʀɪɴɢɪɴɢ ɪɴ $7778. I sᴛᴀʀᴛᴇᴅ ᴛʜɪs 9 ᴍᴏɴᴛʜs ᴀɢᴏ ᴀɴᴅ ᴘʀᴀᴄᴛɪᴄᴀʟʟʏ sᴛʀᴀɪɢʜᴛ ᴀᴡᴀʏ sᴛᴀʀᴛᴇᴅ ᴍᴀᴋɪɴɢ ᴍᴏʀᴇ ᴛʜᴀɴ $83 ᴘᴇʀ ʜᴏᴜʀ. I ᴡᴏʀᴋ ᴛʜʀᴏᴜɢʜ ᴛʜɪs ʟɪɴᴋ, <strong> www.Mojo50.com</strong>
What the NSA costs taxpayers.
"...Gordon Adams, a former White House budget official for national security, said he wouldn't be surprised if NSA's resources are "well north" of $20 billion a year..."
It is said by 2033 social security is broke.
Between now and then 400 billion plus will be spent
for this program to treat all USA citizens as
convicted criminals worthy of tracking.
Wouldn't it be nice we all be considered 'innocent until
proven guilty' and use this monies for social security.