NSA Under Scrutiny for ‘Orwellian’ Order

The news that the NSA has been collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans is an example of the genuine threat of ‘Big Brother’ governance in the digital era. While it shouldn’t surprise people that the government does such things, it may be a surprise that its taken this long for such underhand monitoring to come to attention.

The Guardian reported the story, publishing a secret court order from the NSA directing the Verizon phone company to hand over electronic data on its customers on an “ongoing daily basis”. The document was signed by Judge Roger Vinson of the secret Intelligence Surveillance Court and it is unknown whether it was a renewal or an initiating order. According to the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, the document “shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing”.

Written By William Barns-Graham

The data being issued was metadata including phone numbers, duration of calls and so on. It doesn’t include the callers’ addresses or any financial information, but civil liberties groups are nonetheless adamant that the use of such information was a breach of civilian privacy. The government have previously retorted that metadata does no include personal information and therefore doesn’t require warrant. The American Civil Liberties Union have decried that the use of it is “Orwellian”.

The US government, security agencies and the company Verizon have not commented on the report. It is thought that it falls under the Patriot Act from the Bush era which allows the government to access business records for its terrorism investigations. Verizon are one of the largest phone companies in the US.

The order did have a ‘gagging order’ stating that “no person shall disclose to any other person that the FBI or NSA have sought or obtained tangible things under this Order”. Nonetheless, the order will bring into sharp focus ongoing debates about the use of personal civilian information by the government and companies too. At the moment in Europe legislation is being drawn up to regulate the use of metadata by online companies like Amazon and Facebook.

“It provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies,” Jameel Jaffer, ACLU’s deputy legal director, is quoted as saying on the BBC.

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