Verizon is not required to hand over data on calls that originate abroad, and recordings of the calls themselves are not included in the order. The document was signed by the judge Roger Vinson of the United States Foreign Intelligence Court on April 25th, and the order extended through July 19th.
The NSA has publicly acknowledged it received secret court approval to collect vast amounts of so-called metadata from Verizon and leading Internet companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo and Facebook.
The information includes the numbers, time, and length of nearly every phone call to and from the United States in the past five years, but not the location or actual monitoring of the conversations themselves. To do so would require a separate, specifically targeted search warrant.
The revelations on bulk data collection triggered new debate about national security and privacy interests, and about the secretive legal process that sets in motion the government surveillance.
The challenge was the first case to reach the court since documents leaked by Edward Snowden disclosed the broad outlines of the NSA's spying programs. Snowden, a former NSA contractor, later identified himself as the leaker and is currently in Russia on the run from the U.S. government. He faces a series of criminal charges for disclosing the full scope of domestic data-gathering activities.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.