You probably didn't know that the government is allowed to collect "metadata" from your calls - the duration of your conversation, both telephone numbers, and your respective locations. Neither did most of Verizon's customers, who got a bit of a shock Wednesday when Guardian US revealed that the National Security Agency had been logging their call information since April 25.
The Obama administration was quick to point out - while refusing to confirm or deny the top-secret document obtained by the Guardian - that "metadata" does not include names or any part of the actual conversation, and only allows for information on phone numbers (aka who you're talking to). The White House added that collecting phone data is a “critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats.” Hey, remember this?
"Metadata" is, at the moment, legal for government agencies to obtain. But under the same court order that allows it - and will continue to allow the National Security Agency to log Verizon information until July 19 - Verizon was banned from telling its customers about the data collection.
How might this information be used? The FBI's former Assistant Director told CNN that the National Security Agency isn't likely to go over random civilians' cellphone records - after all, they're in the millions. More likely, he said, the National Security Agency will be able to use the recorded information in the future: for example, to track the calls made from and to suspected terrorists, like Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Though it's likely that this is largest-scale invasion of telephone privacy so far, it's not the first time it's happened. In the aftermath of 9/11, the National Security Agency set up a program that, in 2006, collected massive amounts of "metadata" from both AT&T and Verizon. Though customers were enraged and lawsuits were filed against cell phone carriers, the NSA never announced they'd shut down the program.
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