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US secret court renews government telephone snooping

In new transparency push, secret court tells world how little it can tell world

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The US's surveillance court has okayed the government's continued bulk interception and collection of telephony metadata.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) announced late Friday that it had rubber stamped renewed the government's authority to collect metadata in bulk.

Publication of the renewal comes after media reports stemming from leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden on June 5th showed that the government was harvesting metadata from Verizon on all of its subscribers. Other major telecommunication companies are believed to be involved in similar mass data collection schemes.

In response to the leaks, the Director of National Intelligence officially declassified elements of this program on June 6th "in order to provide the public with a more thorough and balanced understanding of that program," the FISA release says.

The court order for that data slurp had been due to expire on July 19, 2013. It has now been renewed, allowing the continued collection by the government of data such as a mobile user's originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, International Mobile station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call.

Though members of the government have portrayed the interception of metadata as being benign since it doesn't contain the content of the voice or text messages, the value of this metadata is huge and allows for effectively tracking and profiling mobile users.

"Consistent with his prior declassification decision and in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program, the DNI has decided to declassify and disclose publicly that the Government filed an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking renewal of the authority to collect telephony metadata in bulk, and that the Court renewed that authority," FISA said.

Little else is known about the program, but that may change: the FISA statement said "the Administration is undertaking a careful and thorough review of whether and to what extent additional information or documents pertaining to this program may be declassified, consistent with the protection of national security." ®

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