Double bind: Part of the order mandated that Verizon not tell its' customer's about the record transfer nor could they admit that the order existed
The National Security Agency is collecting telephone records for millions of Americans without informing the individuals involved, it was revealed late on Wednesday night.
A copy of a secret order to obtain phone records for all Verizon customers was obtained, showing that the NSA was monitoring all incoming and outgoing calls made on that network.
The backlash will not stop with the millions of Americans who are Verizon customers, as there is no way of knowing if other phone companies have had the same clandestine order placed upon them as well.
obtained a copy of the order that forces the phone company to hand over records of phone calls starting in late April for all of its customers on a 'ongoing, daily basis' without giving specific parameters.
Because of the lack of distinction, it means that the phone records are not just being collected for suspected terrorists, but the company's entire consumer base.
The only restriction set forth in the order seems to be the duration of the exchange. It was approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and it denoted that it would only hold water until July 19, so just shy of three months.
Verizon is believed to have nearly 150million customers across the U.S., all of whom could potentially be affected by the controversial court order.
This news comes just as the Obama administration is in the process of explaining itself for secretly subpoenaing the phone records of journalists at the Associated Press and Fox News without notifying either organization.
That case was tied to a national security leak, and caused uproar from which the Department of Justice is still reeling.
In this latest instance of unexplained government spying, the government order gives them records of all calls made from certain numbers, and lists what phone numbers they called and how long the call lasted.
The data does not include recordings of the conversation or a transcription of those calls.
The Guardian reports that the copy of the order shows that the court ordered Verizon to give the NSA 'all call detail records or 'telephony metadata' created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad'.
These records must 'continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this order'.
The secret nature of the order means that Verizon was forbidden to disclose the nature of the order and the existence of the order itself.
As such, there is no way of knowing whether similar orders have been put upon other telephone carriers, making the web of possible victims unlimited.
An expert in electronic freedom practices says that it was unlikely that Verizon would be the only subject of such an order and that the other major carriers probably had similar orders against them.
'That's not the society we've built in the United States,' said Kurt Opsahl, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is suing the NSA over surveillance inside the country.
'It's not the society we set forth in the Constitution, and it's not the society we should have.'
He isn't the only one reacting to the news, as former Vice President Al Gore took to Twitter to call the revelation 'obscenely outrageous'.
His decision to come forward is an important one, as he served for two terms under former President Bill Clinton, who will most likely remain silent because of his close association with President Obama- particularly as his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the likely 2016 Democratic nominee for President.
Looking back, Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall warned that the government was abusing their privileges when it came to spying.
The two men, who sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, cryptically warned that there would be backlash should any of the federal tricks be revealed.
'When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry,' they wrote in a joint letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in 2012.
'As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.'
The American Civil Liberties Union put out an immediate statement calling for an end to the program - which is scheduled to run until July 19 - and a investigation into the order.
'From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming,' ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement.
'It's a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents.
'It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies.'
The order is the first concrete evidence that U.S. intelligence officials are continuing a broad campaign of domestic surveillance that began under President George W. Bush and caused great controversy when it was first exposed.
In 2005, the New York Times reported that the NSA was wiretapping Americans without warrants on international calls. Los Angeles Times and USA Today later reported that the agency also had unchecked access to records on domestic calls.
In addition, a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, said that a room accessible only with NSA clearance in the carrier's main San Francisco hub received perfect copies of all transmissions.
Verizon is the second biggest U.S. telephone company behind AT&T in terms of revenue. The vast majority of Verizon's overseas operations come from its acquisition of MCI Communications, which is also covered by the order although foreign-to-foreign calls are exempted from it.