If there’s only one thing you need to know about cellular companies, it’s this: Your civil rights are for sale when you sign a contract. So the only thing really surprising about the relevation that the FBI has been collecting data from Verizon on every phone call since April 25 is that it’s every single call.
And when we say “every single call,” we mean it. In fact, Verizon is forking over everything but the actual call.
The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.
Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls.
Why, precisely, is this happening? Considering the timing, it’s probably due to the Boston marathon bombings, especially since the court granted the order under 50 USC § 1861, a law concerning business record access for terrorism investigations. If you read the court ruling closely, you’ll find that it’s concerned with communications abroad as well as within the United States. Notable is that the court only wants “telephony metadata” included; that means the name, address, and financial info of whoever holds the number is not given to the FBI.
That said, this is still a fairly troubling case on many levels. Asking for this much data in bulk to sift through seems pointless, especially when the Boston bombers were quickly identified and presumably had their phone records thoroughly examined. The fact that it was granted also raises the question of how often these orders go through, and what happens to the data after it’s retrieved.
In short, basically you need to assume the FBI knows who you’re calling at all times. So email your dealer. That will surely go well.