On June 6, 2013, in response to media reports that the US National Security Agency was collecting data from the telephone calls of all Verizon Business customers, PEN American Center released the following statement.
New York City, June 6, 2013—PEN is appalled at the news that the National Security Agency, under a top secret order, has been collecting data on the telephone calls of all Verizon Business customers. PEN American Center President Peter Godwin called the surveillance “a shocking intrusion” that “underscores our worst fears that the U.S. government has veered off the rails in its understanding of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
“We have long warned of the dangers that Section 215 of the Patriot Act posed to personal privacy, and we went to court to challenge the scope of the National Security Agency’s secret telephone and Internet surveillance program,” Godwin said. “The Supreme Court dismissed our suit because it said we could not prove that our calls were being tracked. Now we find out that, for at least the last two months, they have been. That this kind of monitoring has taken place despite years of objections from constitutional experts, civil libertarians, and ordinary citizens suggests that something is fundamentally flawed in our understanding of democratic oversight.”
Early this morning, the Guardian published a secret order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court requiring Verizon Business Services to turn over, “on an ongoing daily basis … for the duration of this Order … an electronic copy of the following tangible things: all call details or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad, or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.” That “metadata” includes “originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) Number, International Mobile station Equipment Identity (IMEI) Number, trunk identifier, telephone calling call numbers, and time and duration of call.” Under the order, which expires in July, every single Verizon Business customer call is being logged by the National Security Agency.
The secret court order, which was issued in response to an FBI request, cites as its authority the so-called “Records Provision” of the Patriot Act. PEN and its colleagues in the Campaign for Reader Privacy have fought for years to limit the scope of that provision. PEN also joined a coalition of leading human rights organizations and journalists in filing a lawsuit challenging the FISA Amendments Act, which authorizes the NSA surveillance program, arguing that the groups had a reasonable fear that their international communications were vulnerable under the program. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court dismissed that lawsuit on the grounds that PEN and its co-plaintiffs could not actually show that their calls and emails were being monitored.
“Today’s revelation—which vindicates warnings from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the NSA surveillance program was operating in ways that would shock Americans—should prompt immediate Congressional hearings,” Godwin said. “Those hearings should be conducted in public, and for the benefit, at last, of public understanding of the nature and scope of surveillance operations that are being carried out in the United States.”
PEN American Center is the largest of the 144 centers of PEN International, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit www.pen.org
For more information contact:
Larry Siems, (646) 359-0594, lsiems [at] pen.org
Sarah Hoffman, (212) 334-1669 ext. 111, sarah [at] pen.org