Another piece from the MIT Technology Review, it seems that the NSA is operating within a new interpretation of its powers under the Patriot Act:
Specifically, a court order released by the Guardian, a British newspaper, shows that the NSA required Verizon’s business division to hand over all records of calls “on an ongoing basis” using a section of the Patriot Act, which was passed shortly after the September 11 attacks in an effort to crack down on terrorism. That section had been previously interpreted as allowing demands only for specific, existing data. Such requests are screened by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
The new revelation suggests that the government and the FISC have come up with a new interpretation of the Patriot Act that enables bulk collection of data on American citizens and residents, says Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist and senior policy analyst for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “I think there’s a reasonable case to be made that the government has stretched the law to its breaking point,” he says.