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The judges who approve phone surveillance are buying Verizon stock

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As the world learns more about the NSA's global surveillance programs, the FISA court has come under new scrutiny as well. The court provides the legal authorization for much of the NSA's spying apparatus, including programs collecting phone records in bulk from phone companies like AT&T and Verizon. But a new report from Vice suggests the court may not be as neutral as it claims. The report singles out three judges who own significant quantities of Verizon stock, including a judge who signed off on the request to renew the metadata program.

It's not the first time these conflict-of-interest charges have been raised against the court, but there's still real doubt about whether the programs have helped or hurt Verizon. Telecoms often receive millions of dollars from the government as part of the record-sharing deals, but there's no evidence the NSA orders include such provisions, and the association with American spying has already cost the company important contracts in Europe. Verizon has called for more transparency, but many worry the company's government ties make it impossible to resist law enforcement requests. These latest conflict-of-interest charges suggest it may be even harder than we thought.