The Obama administration has declassified a secret order directing Verizon Communications to turn over a vast number of Americans’ phone records, and it plans to disclose the document Wednesday morning in time for a Senate hearing, according to senior U.S. officials.
The order was issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to a subsidiary of Verizon in April. Officials described it as the formal order underlying the directive that was disclosed in June by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the court order released by Snowden was a “secondary” order. They expressed hope that the document being released Wednesday will shed light on how the U.S. government obtains communications records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the restrictions placed on surveillance programs.
The release is set to come in advance of a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee at which officials from the Justice Department, the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will face questions about NSA surveillance programs and the collection of Americans’ communications data. At a similar hearing by the House Intelligence Committee this month, lawmakers expressed deep skepticism over the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records.
The phone records include basic information on the calls of millions of Americans — including the phone numbers dialed, the time of the call and the length of the conversations.
U.S. officials have defended the collection, saying it has proved vital to the disruption of terrorist plots in the United States and overseas. But some lawmakers have said the NSA’s program goes beyond the more targeted collection of communications data that was authorized by Congress.
The order from April covers the same length of time as the order previously disclosed by Snowden. Officials have said the Justice Department seeks renewal for the bulk-collection orders every 90 days.