US mass surveillance: Verizon’s challenge to collect metadata for NSA failed

Tuesday, April 29, 2014
By Paul Martin
29 April 2014

For the first time since the US government began collecting data about Americans’ phone calls in bulk after 9/11, Verizon telecommunications company has questioned those surveillance activities in court, according to a judge’s opinion unsealed on Friday, reports. Proceedings in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) are often secret, and this unsealing was the first time since the inception of bulk surveillance that one of the telecommunications companies targeted for such surveillance is known to have used the court itself to question those tactics.

Despite a ruling late last year that the NSA collection is likely unconstitutional, a judge on the in March ruled against Verizon’s challenge to the collection.

According to The New York Times, the government seeks orders from the FISA court every 90 days to direct phone companies to turn over to the NSA on a daily basis all call-detail records. The records include numbers dialed and call times and durations, but not their content.

Verizon challenged the collection in January, arguing that it could not be sure that the court had considered the opinion that the program likely violated Americans’ privacy rights, according to documents released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

This means, Verizon didn’t directly challenge the government’s right to make companies turn over “telephony metadata” – information about the phone numbers customers dial and the time, date and duration of such calls but instead asked the FISC to explain its legal reasoning.

In an order signed on March 20 but only unsealed on Friday, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer wrote that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection was legal and did not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures because Americans have no “reasonable expectation” that metadata, which they voluntarily reveal to their phone companies, will remain private.

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