The Obama administration will declassify the secret court order compelling Verizon to turn over metadata on Americans’ phone calls, according to reports.
The order, which was issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, will be shared ahead of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, as lawmakers continue to probe the National Security Agency surveillance disclosed by leaker Edward Snowden.
The official said the move was part of a “concerted” and “deliberate” effort to declassify and share more information on the workings of the NSA’s surveillance and expressed hope it would help quell congressional anger and reassure lawmakers that adequate steps were taken to protect civil liberties.
Snowden in June revealed classified documents detailing the spy agency’s collection of phone and Internet data of Americans to help track terror threats. One of those programs ordered Verizon to turn over metadata, including phone numbers dialed and the length of calls.
The disclosures sparked a firestorm of controversy over the administration’s civil liberties record and the balance between national security and privacy.
Officials speaking to the Washington Post said court order leaked by Snowden was a “secondary” order and that the document to be shared on Wednesday was the original court directive to Verizon.
The move comes as critics of NSA surveillance hope to gain momentum in their bid to limit the agency’s powers.
The House last week narrowly defeated a measure, authored by libertarian-leaning GOP Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), that would have blocked funds for the NSA to collect phone records. While the measure was opposed by the White House and the heads of the intelligence committees it fell just seven votes short of passing.
Amash has vowed to press his efforts to enact more restrictions on the NSA, and in the upper chamber, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation to tighten privacy standards.