The National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] is collecting call data from Verizon customers under a top secret court order [text] published by The Guardian [text] Wednesday. The court order, granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to the FBI in April, requires Verizon to turn over information about phone calls between the US and foreign countries and phone calls within the US. The order compels the production of metadata, including location, time and call duration, but does not include content of calls. The order is set to expire July 19. The Obama administration has defended the data collection [AP report] as an important tool in the war against terror. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] has condemned the practice [press release] as unconstitutional.
The US Senate [official website] voted in December to extend [JURIST report] the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act of 2008 [text, PDF] for five years. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorizes the FISC and grants the NSA the authority to conduct surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and emails in attempts to protect against terrorism and other foreign threats. FISA has been controversial since its inception in 1978 and remains controversial in post-9/11 [JURIST backgrounder] America. Last year scholars argued that the law too heavily favors the government by creating an impossible evidentiary burden for defendants and that Congress may have chosen to protect national security interests [JURIST op-eds] over those of criminal defendants without considering the constitution.