Yesterday a leaked court order revealed that Verizon was compelled to turn over phone records to the National Security Agency, and tonight on the NBC Nightly News Andrea Mitchell reported that this was simply one part of a much broader program. According to Mitchell, under the Patriot Act the US government has been collecting records on every telephone call made in the country for the last seven years. The "telephony metadata," as its referred to in the leaked Verizon court order, is stored on NSA computer systems. Names and recordings of the conversations themselves aren't included, though the government can opt to go back to the provider in question and ask permission to listen in on a given phone number should it believe a specific threat is likely. The Wall Street Journal corroborated the report, with its own sources confirming that AT&T and Sprint were both involved as well.
Earlier today Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) tried to assuage concerns by pointing out that the Verizon order was part of a standard three-month renewal that has been in place for the last seven years. The news shouldn't come as a complete surprise, either; back in 2006 USA Today reported that the NSA was collecting information for a database of phone calls made by Americans. Other members of Congress have been actively defending the program as well, with House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) justifying the program today by stating that it has definitively been used to help stop terrorist attacks within the United States. Still, this new bit of information is part of a much broader picture that the US public is just starting to get a glimpse of — and that many feel disregards reasonable expectations of privacy, no matter what the rationalization behind it.
Update: Citing several anonymous sources, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the NSA has also been receiving purchase data from credit card companies and internet use data from US ISPs. Details are scarce, but "data about email or website visits" are reportedly included, although not the content of the emails themselves.