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NSA surveillance: Supreme Court is asked to halt phone spying on Americans

A privacy group called on the Supreme Court to invalidate the secret court order that authorized the collection of telephone metadata from every Verizon business customer in the US.

By Staff writer / July 8, 2013

Senate Appropriations Committee member Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon holds up his Verizon cell phone while questioning Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, during last month's committee hearing on cybersecurity. Sen. Tom Udall (D) of New Mexico watches from the right.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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WASHINGTON

A nonprofit privacy group asked the US Supreme Court on Monday to invalidate a secret court order that authorized the US government to collect and retain all telephone metadata from every Verizon business customer in the United States.

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The order was issued April 25 and required Verizon Business Network Services to turn over the data every day through July 19, 2013.

The secret decision was issued by a judge with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and had remained a classified document until it was publicly disclosed recently by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

In response to the unusually broad data collection order, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the order and stop the ongoing collection of domestic telephone records of millions of Americans.

Such petitions to the high court are rare, and even more rarely granted.

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.

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