The U.S. National Security Agency has been allowed by a court order to collect phone records of Verizon's customers, the Obama administration on Thursday acknowledged.
The Guardian newspaper published a 'secret' court order
related to the records of millions of Verizon Communications customers on its website on Wednesday.
According to the order, dated April 25 and issued by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington, D.C., requires Verizon to produce call records or "telephony metadata" on an ongoing daily basis.
The metadata includes communications routing information such as session-identifying information, trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call, according to the document. It does not include the content of a communication, or the name, address, and financial information of the customer.
The Obama administration on Thursday acknowledged the court order. In a statement with Reuters, a senior administration official said that the order
pertains only to data such as a telephone number or the length of a call, and not the subscribers' identities or the content of the telephone calls.
Such information is "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States," the official said, speaking on the condition of not being named.
"There is no indication that the order to Verizon was unique or novel," said online rights group, Electronic Frontier Foundation in a blog post. Orders like the one published by the Guardian could exist for every major U.S. telecommunications company, it added.
"This type of untargeted, wholly domestic surveillance is exactly what EFF, and others have been suing about for years," EFF said.
"In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?" former U.S. Vice President Al Gore wrote in a Twitter message, referring to the report in the Guardian.