Why is the government collecting data on Verizon users?

Do you hear that strange noise, Verizon users? That may very well be the sound of our own government checking in on your call information. Conspiracy theorists everywhere can take at least some semblance of collective relief in knowing they're not all totally crazy, because it turns out that the U.S. government has been collecting data -- all the way down to the local level -- on Verizon customers for some weeks now.

The worst part of all? The government -- via the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) -- has been doing so in a sanctioned matter that was approved by a "top secret court order" issued in April 2013.

According to a startling exclusive report by the Guardian published on Wednesday, June 5, Verizon was forced to "hand over" all call data on an "ongoing, daily basis."

The full court order in question can be read here.

Verizon must grant the NSA access to all call information on calls made between users in the U.S. and even between those in the U.S. and those abroad, as the court order clearly states.

The Guardian notes that this is the first time that, under the administration of Obama, citizens are being monitored "indiscriminately and in bulk" via their phone information, regardless of the fact that they might not be suspected of any untoward activities.

It was the FBI that was granted permission by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) on April 25, 2013. The FBI can monitor such information for the duration of three months (or up until July 19).

Information that the government is observing as regards Verizon users includes:

  • Both your number and number of the person you're calling (again, even if the other person is in another country)
  • Data on call location
  • "Unique identifiers"
  • Duration of call
  • Time of call

Although the court order does not grant permission for the FBI, NSA or U.S. government to go over the actual content of the call, it  does make one wonder just how far these agencies are willing to go to get the data they're apparently looking for, even among innocent citizens.

"The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government's domestic spying powers," the Guardian says.

One of the reasons the NSA collecting such information is particularly frightening is because Fisa typically targets specific individuals who are suspect of, say, terrorist activities when issuing court orders of this nature. To demand that Verizon give up information on all of its call information -- again, regardless of there being suspicion about every single one of its users -- is, as the Guardian puts it, "extremely unusual."

All government agencies involved declined to comment to the Guardian, as did Verizon, which has been "expressly bar[red]" from disclosing to the public the court order or any information monitoring by the FBI.

According to a recent update by The Ticket, "[t]he Administration responds, defending a 'critical tool' against terrorism and underlining that the government is not listening in on anyone's calls."

What do you think about the government checking up on such call information? Is this indeed "critical" in the fight against terror, or an act of terror itself? Sound off in our comments below!

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