Verizon subscribers, feeling paranoid? Because you are being watched

Secret court documents reveal the U.S. government is spying on millions of Verizon customers -- and probably the rest of us too

Well, isn't that special? The Guardian has obtained a copy of a secret court order that allows the NSA to spy on millions of Verizon customers in the United States. Reporter Glenn Greenwald nails it:

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk -- regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

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Forget Benghazi, forget the IRS/Tea Party kerfuffle, forget every trumped-up pseudo-scandal that has been thrown against the Obama administration over the last five years. This is the real deal. Coupled with the news about the Obamanistas spying on reporters from Associated Press and Fox News, it truly does qualify for the adjective "Nixonian."

Here's what we know, which isn't much.

On April 25, Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court approved a secret request from the NSA to collect all "telephony metadata" from every call made by every Verizon subscriber in the United States for a period of three months. That metadata can include your phone number, the number of the person you were calling, the unique IMSI numbers of the devices used for the call, date and time, duration of the call, and location of the callers. It doesn't include the content of the call or the names of the callers, though the latter isn't hard to obtain once you have all this other information.

The spooks can collect these records using a particularly egregious provision of the Patriot Act that allows for widescale hoovering of so-called business records and requires complete secrecy on the part of all parties involved. The order is so secret it's been classified until the year 2038.

Whoever leaked that court order to Greenwald has some serious cojones, given the Obama administration's extremely aggressive attitude toward leaks. If he or she contacted Greenwald by phone, well, the feds probably have a pretty good idea who they are.

Beyond the Bush administration

This is very much in line with the Bush administration's wireless wiretapping scandal, with two key differences: The Verizon spying was approved by a federal judge, and it appears to cast a much wider net.

Given how extremely rare it is for a FISA court to turn down a request, though, getting a judge's approval isn't a very high bar to clear. Out of nearly 34,000 applications for FISA surveillance since 1979, the court has rejected exactly 11.

The judge in this case, Roger Vinson, is the same guy who declared Obamacare unconstitutional because it required people to carry health insurance. He has been famously quoted thusly:

If they decided that everybody needs to eat broccoli because broccoli is healthy they could mandate that everybody has to buy a certain amount of broccoli each week.

In other words, spying on millions of perfectly innocent Americans is more constitutional than forcing them to eat broccoli. Are we all clear on that?

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