WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's seizure of millions of phone Verizon phone records under a secret court order is "alarming" and "beyond Orwellian," an American Civil Liberties Union official said Wednesday.
The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald reported on a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order that required Verizon to turn over information on all telephone calls both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries on an "ongoing, daily basis" until July 19. The order was issued on April 25.
“From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming," Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement. "It’s a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents. 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.”
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said in a statement he could not comment on the details in the Guardian's report, but reiterated that he felt Americans would be taken aback by the way courts have interpreted the government's spying powers.
"This sort of widescale surveillance should concern all of us and is the kind of government overreach I've said Americans would find shocking," Udall said. "As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, it's why I will keep fighting for transparency and appropriate checks on the surveillance of Americans."
Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel at the ACLU Washington legislative office, called on the government to end the surveillance effort and to disclose its full scope.
“This disclosure also highlights the growing gap between the public’s and the government’s understandings of the many sweeping surveillance authorities enacted by Congress," Richardson said. "Since 9/11, the government has increasingly classified and concealed not just facts, but the law itself. Such extreme secrecy is inconsistent with our democratic values of open government and accountability.”
"The Patriot Act’s incredibly broad surveillance provision purportedly authorizes an order of this sort, though its constitutionality is in question and several senators have complained about it," the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement. "The Patriot Act provision requires the FBI to notify Congress about the number of such warrants, but this single order covering millions of people is a deceptive end-run around that disclosure requirement."