According to a Top Secret court order, obtained by the Guardian newspaper, one of the biggest US telephone companies has been forced to hand over “telephony metadata” on an ongoing daily basis to the National Security Agency (NSA).
Verizon have to comply with the order which means that they need to provide a list of records of all calls made through their firm in the US. This includes the telephone number of the caller and recipient, the time and duration of the call and also unique identifying information about the phone itself. It stresses that this does NOT include the CONTENT of the call (so what was actually said) or any personal information of the subscriber or customer of that call. Something sound familiar here? It should – it’s basically the same as what the UK government wants to pass in order to “protect National Security”. It is something I recently wrote about here.
What’s even more alarming about this though is the order comes from a court that is held in secret and the order that was made is a gagging order which states that Verizon isn’t allowed to make public any knowledge of this. It was made after an application from the FBI and the information is to be sent to the NSA.
Privacy advocates are outraged after hearing the news with former Vice-President Al Gore even weighing in on the debate. He tweeted
“In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also spoke fiercely against it in the following press release which includes such comments as
“From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies”.
The ACLU are up in court soon to try to find out more information about the “secret interpretation” of the White House when it comes to this type of order. Early July there will be oral arguments in the Southern District of New York. I would love to be there to this played out in court.
It is clear that there is now going to be a real public debates on National Security vs Privacy rights in the US. From a UK perspective, it couldn’t have come at a better time, or worse depending on your viewpoint. It remains to be seen whether such an order will be rescinded but it’s highly unlikely and as yet there has been no formal comment by the White House. I am fairly confident however that there will be an investigation launched to find out who leaked this court order, which is in itself an offense.
I believe while it is vital that we protect national security, we do so in a way that doesn’t diminish who we are or our values. Surveilling our citizens constantly might protect and prevent some attacks, it might not as well. I don’t believe that is enough justification to try and use the methods that are currently being deployed or at least thought of in the Western world. We live in a free, fair, open and democratic society but it’s increasingly worrying about the potential for a possible police state. There is a balancing act, there are no easy answers but I am yet to be convinced that this is the right way to go about it.
We wait and see with interest what will happen but what’s your thoughts? Are you happy with this as long as you think it is helping to protect your security and doesn’t give them your personal information or is this yet another broad overreach that goes against a countries democratic values? Let us know your opinions.