The once-secret order demanded that Verizon turn over to the NSA “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
The order does not require disclosure of the content of the phone calls. Instead it seeks routing information, including the telephone numbers making and receiving the calls, subscriber identity numbers, calling card numbers, and the time and duration of the calls.
Such metadata is used by intelligence analysts to identify patterns of behavior and networks of associates. Experts say it can reveal substantial personal information when such data is collected and analyzed over time.
“Telephone records, even without the content of the calls, can reveal an immense amount of sensitive, private information. There is no reasonable grounds for the NSA to have access to every call record of every Verizon customer,” Marc Rotenberg, president of EPIC, said in a statement.
He said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was applying the surveillance act in a way that is inconsistent with the text and purpose of the statute.
The secret court “exceeded its statutory jurisdiction when it ordered production of millions of domestic telephone records that cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation,” Mr. Rotenberg said, in a 38-page petition urging the high court to take up the issue.
“It is simply not possible that every phone record in the possession of a telecommunications firm could be relevant to an authorized investigation,” he wrote.
Rotenberg said the order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court touched on the privacy interests of all Verizon business customers, including his own organization, EPIC.