Update: The Washington Post says the Verizon phone dragnet may have been going on since 2006.
Britain's Guardian Newspaper says the blanket surveillance by the USA's biggest spy agency, the National Security Agency, on behalf of the FBI, covers both foreign and domestic calls and has been going on since April. Every Verizon customer is being spied on, regardless of whether s/he is suspected of wrongdoing.
The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) granted the order to the FBI on April 25th. You can read the top secret order here. Al Gore just called the practice "obscenely outrageous."
The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compels Verizon to produce to the NSA electronic copies of "all call detail records or 'telephony metadata' created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad" or "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls".
The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, about the scope of the Obama administration's surveillance activities.
For roughly two years, the two Democrats have been stridently advising the public that the US government is relying on "secret legal interpretations" to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be "stunned" to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted.
Because those activities are classified, the senators, both members of the Senate intelligence committee, have been prevented from specifying which domestic surveillance programs they find so alarming.
Julian Sanchez, a surveillance expert with the Cato Institute, explained: "...vacuuming all metadata up indiscriminately would be an extraordinary repudiation of any pretence of constraint or particularized suspicion." The April order requested by the FBI and NSA does precisely that.
FBI Director Robert S. Meuller has been
collecting data on every call made by
all 98 million Verizon customers
since last April.
The law on which the order explicitly relies is the so-called "business records" provision of the Patriot Act, 50 USC section 1861. That is the provision which Wyden and Udall have repeatedly cited when warning the public of what they believe is the Obama administration's extreme interpretation of the law to engage in excessive domestic surveillance...
We believe," they wrote, "that most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted" the "business records" provision of the Patriot Act.