By Brendan Sasso - 06/06/13 02:41 AM EDT
The National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers under a top secret court order, according to the Guardian.
The British newspaper obtained the order, which requires Verizon to give the NSA information on all of its customers' phone calls—not just those under any suspicion of wrongdoing. The order covers the numbers of both callers, the time and duration of the calls and other identifying information. The order does not cover the contents of conversations or text messages.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the program was put in place under a controversial provision of the Patriot Act.
“From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It’s a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents,” Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director, said in a statement. “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."
Michelle Richardson, an ACLU legislative counsel, called the program unconstitutional and urged Congress to launch a full investigation.
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) raised alarm in 2011 that they were aware that the NSA was using a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act to collect private information of Americans.
But the senators, who sit on the Intelligence Committee, said they were unable to reveal classified information.
"When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry," Wyden said in a 2011 floor speech.
The Verizon court order was scheduled to be declassified in 2038.
--This report was originally published at 10:41 p.m. and last updated at 11:20 p.m.