Are all telephone calls recorded and accessible to the US government? | Glenn Greenwald (2023)

The real capabilities and behavior of the US surveillance state are almost entirely unknown to the American public because, like most things of significance done by the US government, it operates behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy. But a seemingly spontaneous admission this week by a former FBI counterterrorism agent provides a rather startling acknowledgment of just how vast and invasive these surveillance activities are.

Over the past couple days, cable news tabloid shows such as CNN's Out Front with Erin Burnett have been excitingly focused on the possible involvement in the Boston Marathon attack of Katherine Russell, the 24-year-old American widow of the deceased suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. As part of their relentless stream of leaks uncritically disseminated by our Adversarial Press Corps, anonymous government officials are claiming that they are now focused on telephone calls between Russell and Tsarnaev that took place both before and after the attack to determine if she had prior knowledge of the plot or participated in any way.

On Wednesday night, Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between the two. He quite clearly insisted that they could:

BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It's not a voice mail. It's just a conversation. There's no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?

(Video) Glenn Greenwald: NSA Analysts Listening To Trillions of US Phone Calls

CLEMENTE: "No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It's not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.

BURNETT: "So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.

CLEMENTE: "No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not."

"All of that stuff" - meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on US soil, with or without a search warrant - "is being captured as we speak".

On Thursday night, Clemente again appeared on CNN, this time with host Carol Costello, and she asked him about those remarks. He reiterated what he said the night before but added expressly that "all digital communications in the past" are recorded and stored:

(Video) Glenn Greenwald: NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily

Let's repeat that last part: "no digital communication is secure", by which he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications - meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like - are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is.

There have been some previous indications that this is true. Former AT&T engineer Mark Klein revealed that AT&T and other telecoms had built a special network that allowed the National Security Agency full and unfettered access to data about the telephone calls and the content of email communications for all of their customers. Specifically, Klein explained "that the NSA set up a system that vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the cooperation of AT&T" and that "contrary to the government's depiction of its surveillance program as aimed at overseas terrorists . . . much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic." But his amazing revelations were mostly ignored and, when Congress retroactively immunized the nation's telecom giants for their participation in the illegal Bush spying programs, Klein's claims (by design) were prevented from being adjudicated in court.

That every single telephone call is recorded and stored would also explain this extraordinary revelation by the Washington Post in 2010:

(Video) Exposing the Dark Forces Behind the Glenn Greenwald Smears (with Max Blumenthal) 1/2

Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.

It would also help explain the revelations of former NSA official William Binney, who resigned from the agency in protest over its systemic spying on the domestic communications of US citizens, that the US government has "assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about US citizens with other US citizens" (which counts only communications transactions and not financial and other transactions), and that "the data that's being assembled is about everybody. And from that data, then they can target anyone they want."

Despite the extreme secrecy behind which these surveillance programs operate, there have been periodic reports of serious abuse. Two Democratic Senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, have been warning for years that Americans would be "stunned" to learn what the US government is doing in terms of secret surveillance.

Are all telephone calls recorded and accessible to the US government? | Glenn Greenwald (1)

Strangely, back in 2002 - when hysteria over the 9/11 attacks (and thus acquiescence to government power) was at its peak - the Pentagon's attempt to implement what it called the "Total Information Awareness" program (TIA) sparked so much public controversy that it had to be official scrapped. But it has been incrementally re-instituted - without the creepy (though honest) name and all-seeing-eye logo - with little controversy or even notice.

(Video) Munk Debate on State Surveillance ft. Dershowitz, Hayden, Greenwald, Ohanian

Back in 2010, worldwide controversy erupted when the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates banned the use of Blackberries because some communications were inaccessible to government intelligence agencies, and that could not be tolerated. The Obama administration condemned this move on the ground that it threatened core freedoms, only to turn around six weeks later and demand that all forms of digital communications allow the US government backdoor access to intercept them. Put another way, the US government embraced exactly the same rationale invoked by the UAE and Saudi agencies: that no communications can be off limits. Indeed, the UAE, when responding to condemnations from the Obama administration, noted that it was simply doing exactly that which the US government does:

"'In fact, the UAE is exercising its sovereign right and is asking for exactly the same regulatory compliance - and with the same principles of judicial and regulatory oversight - that Blackberry grants the US and other governments and nothing more,' [UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al] Otaiba said. 'Importantly, the UAE requires the same compliance as the US for the very same reasons: to protect national security and to assist in law enforcement.'"

That no human communications can be allowed to take place without the scrutinizing eye of the US government is indeed the animating principle of the US Surveillance State. Still, this revelation, made in passing on CNN, that every single telephone call made by and among Americans is recorded and stored is something which most people undoubtedly do not know, even if the small group of people who focus on surveillance issues believed it to be true (clearly, both Burnett and Costello were shocked to hear this).

Some new polling suggests that Americans, even after the Boston attack, are growing increasingly concerned about erosions of civil liberties in the name of Terrorism. Even those people who claim it does not matter instinctively understand the value of personal privacy: they put locks on their bedroom doors and vigilantly safeguard their email passwords. That's why the US government so desperately maintains a wall of secrecy around their surveillance capabilities: because they fear that people will find their behavior unacceptably intrusive and threatening, as they did even back in 2002 when John Poindexter's TIA was unveiled.

Mass surveillance is the hallmark of a tyrannical political culture. But whatever one's views on that, the more that is known about what the US government and its surveillance agencies are doing, the better. This admission by this former FBI agent on CNN gives a very good sense for just how limitless these activities are.

(Video) NSA Collecting Millions of Phone Records from Verizon Customers Daily


Does the government still record phone calls? ›

The federal Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 and State and Territory listening devices laws may both apply to monitoring or recording of telephone conversations. The general rule is that the call may not be recorded.

Can FBI listen to past phone calls? ›

Yes, police and law enforcement can listen to previous phone calls as they have the power to seek call detail records from the service provider.

Are phone calls recorded by phone companies? ›

no. A conversation isn't record unless you get a recorder and record it. There is no play back.

Do phone companies record all conversations? ›

The level of storage would be immense, however all carriers capture meta data or Call Detail Records (CDR). CDRs contain everything but the media or conversation audio. Yes. phone calls are “recorded”.

Does the government monitor your cell phone? ›

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) used mobile location data to track people's movements on a much larger scale than previously known, according to new documents unearthed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Can I ask for a copy of a recorded phone call? ›

On the federal level, recorded conversations are usually permissible if at least one of the parties to the conversation consents to the recording and he or she does not intend the recording to be used for an illegal purpose.

Can the US government listen to phone calls? ›

Can the FBI listen to your phone calls? They have to follow strict guidelines and go through a specific process to obtain approval. The government can only use a wiretap in certain cases, some of which include those involving terrorism crimes, drug dealing, counterfeiting, misuse of passports, and aircraft parts fraud.

How do you know if your phone is tapped by the feds? ›

A telltale sign that your phone is tapped is when you see apps you're sure you didn't download. The same is true if you suddenly find unwanted popups and spammy ads, even when you're not actively browsing the web. While this is common for Androids, iPhones are not exempt.

Can police listen to your cell phone conversations? ›

The police must first obtain a wiretap order before eavesdropping on your phone conversations. This is similar to a warrant.

How far back can cell phone records be retrieved? ›

Phone companies should keep records for 12 months on date and time of calls, duration, numbers dialled, and - in the case of mobiles - the location of the user, it said.

Are phone calls private? ›

A general rule is that people engaged in personal conversations can reasonably expect their conversations are private. If the communication is private, these statute will protect that conversation. Courts generally consider wire and cell telephone conversations to be private.

Can calls be recorded without your knowledge? ›

Recording a conversation in secret is not a criminal offence and is not prohibited. As long as the recording is for personal use and won't be shared with anyone else, you do not need to obtain consent or let the other person know.

Can a phone conversation be recorded without your knowledge? ›

In California, all parties to any confidential conversation must give their consent to be recorded. For calls occurring over cellular or cordless phones, all parties must consent before a person can record, regardless of confidentiality. Both civil and criminal penalties are available to victims of illegal recordings.

How long do telephone companies keep records? ›

Here's How Long Your Wireless Carrier Holds on to Your Location Data. AT&T keeps cell-site location information for up to five years; Verizon drops it after one.

Can anyone see what I'm doing on my phone? ›

Unfortunately, spyware apps aren't the only way that someone can spy on your phone activity, though. ISPs, governments, WiFi administrators, search engines, website owners, and hackers all have the capacity to spy on certain aspects of what you do on your phone – without having to install any spyware software.

Is it possible for someone to watch you through your phone? ›

Can someone remotely view your phone? Yes, unfortunately, people can access and even control your phone remotely. There are plenty of spyware apps and bugs that let people hack into your phone without you even knowing about it. It's usually through certain links or credentials that hackers do this.

How do I know if my phone is under surveillance? ›

Some signs could include your battery draining rapidly, your device turning off and on, or spikes in your data usage. However, the most common sign that your activity is being monitored will be the other person's suspicious behavior.

How can I prove my call recording? ›

Electronic recording is admissible valid piece of evidence under section 65B of the Evidence Act with certificate of its validity to be given along the actual recorded conversation. However certificate from forensic laboratory of its authenticity will also be required.

How do I stop my phone from being monitored? ›

Turn off location settings on Android:

Enter “Google Location Settings.” Turn off “Location Reporting” and “Location History.” You can also select “Delete Location History” to remove all previous tracking data.

How do I stop my phone from being tracked by the police? ›

How do I disconnect my phone from being tracked? On Android: Open the App Drawer, go into Settings, select Location, and then enter Google Location Settings. Here, you can turn off Location Reporting and Location History.

Does *# 21 tell you if your phone is tapped? ›

Our ruling: False. We rate the claim that dialing *#21# on an iPhone or Android device reveals if a phone has been tapped FALSE because it is not supported by our research.

What does *# 62 do? ›

With the *#62# settings interrogation code, you can see if calls or texts are being forwarded to another number whenever you're unreachable. If the "Voice Call Forwarding," "Data Call Forwarding," and "SMS Call Forwarding" all say they're disabled, good.

How do you know someone is listening to your calls? ›

Here are the signs of someone listening to your phone calls:

Device running hot. Performance issues. Excessive mobile data usage. Signs of an information leak.

Can police see your text messages? ›

In fact, in most states in America, a police officer is allowed to read over your texts and peruse other personal information on your phone whenever they want. The Fourth Amendment privacy rights and protections do not apply here. Right now, police officers can apprehend you for small crimes.

How long are call records saved for? ›

Such records shall be archived for at least two years for scrutiny by the licensor for security reasons and may be destroyed thereafter unless directed otherwise directed by the licensor," the circular dated January 27 for voice mail, audiotex and unified messaging service license said.

Are cell phone pictures admissible in court? ›

Like most legal matters, the answer to the question is “it depends”. There is no definitive answer as to whether cell phone video, or any evidence for that matter, is admissible in court. There are some basic rules that you can use to enhance your position, but in the end, the decision is ultimately made by the judge.

Can old phone conversations be retrieved? ›

no. A conversation isn't record unless you get a recorder and record it. There is no play back.

Can your phone hear you? ›

Android phones

For Android devices, “wake words” include “OK, Google,” but your phone might be listening for certain other keywords as well. That does not mean that there are audio recordings of everything you say being uploaded to Google. Most of that voice data would have no advertising value.

Can a private caller be traced? ›

Private numbers, blocked, and restricted calls can usually be traced. However, unknown, unavailable or out of area calls are not traceable because they don't contain the data needed for a successful trace.

Do private calls go through when blocked? ›

Block unknown numbers

This will block calls from private or unidentified numbers. You will still receive calls from phone numbers that are not stored in your contacts.

Can someone film me without my permission? ›

If an individual is the focus of a particular shot or video then consent is essential. If you have captured an individual in the background of a shot and they are clearly identifiable, you will also need their consent.

Can anyone get my call recording? ›

If you are recording audio conversations of others without having their written consent from all parties, then it will be a violation of privacy which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Can you record your boss yelling at you? ›

Under Federal law, it is legal to record a conversation as long as one-party gives consent to the recording. This is known as a “one-party” consent rule.

Do phone companies keep copies of text messages? ›

Your provider or "carrier" keeps records of your cellphone use, including calls and text messages, and even pictures sent from your phone. Almost all cellphone carriers give detailed information about a phone's use in billing statements sent to the owner.

How far back can text messages be retrieved? ›

All of the providers retained records of the date and time of the text message and the parties to the message for time periods ranging from sixty days to seven years. However, the majority of cellular service providers do not save the content of text messages at all.

Does the NSA spy on phone calls? ›

The NSA's telephone record program, conducted under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, allows it to collect metadata of phone calls, including phone numbers, time stamps, and other identifying information.

How do you know if call is being recorded? ›

Note any unusual and recurring crackling noises, clicks on the line or brief bursts of static during a call. These are indicators that someone is monitoring and possibly recording the conversation.

Can the government see your video calls? ›

The Wiretap Statute – Listening to Live Calls

Basically, this is the statute that prevents the government from listening to everything you say. Of course, there is an important exception: the government can follow specific procedures to obtain a warrant to authorize a wiretap.

Does AT&T record phone conversations? ›

AT&T does not record phone call conversations for the privacy of all of our customers. I can walk you through accessing the phone call records through your myAT&T online account. This will allow you to print out the calls that have been made and received on your phone and the length of the call.

What cell phone does not spy on you? ›

A Security and Privacy Focused Phone

“The Purism Librem 5 is designed with security in mind and has privacy protection by default.”

Does the CIA listen to my phone calls? ›

While the government won't necessarily listen in on your phone calls without a warrant, they can access your phone records. Who you call, when, and for how long can paint a pretty accurate picture of your hobbies, work, and personal life.

What is the case example of surveillance abuse? ›

An example of where surveillance may have been abused is where Facebook and Apple have admitted to allowing government officials to access personal information of their account users.

Are all my phone calls recorded? ›

According to one former FBI agent, the US government may indeed keep a massive database where all domestic communications are recorded and stored. Every day collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.

Can someone listen to my phone calls without me knowing? ›

It's also a common misconception that a phone can be hacked or that someone can listen to your phone calls just by knowing your phone number. This is not possible and is completely false.


1. Munk Debate - Mainstream Media ft. Douglas Murray, Matt Taibbi, Malcolm Gladwell, Michelle Goldberg
2. SECRET MSGS phone companies DON'T want you to know about
(Naomi Brockwell: NBTV)
3. A Massive Surveillance State: Glenn Greenwald Exposes Massive NSA Program Collecting Calls, Emails
4. Glenn Greenwald: Staggered That Peter King Fabricated Lies To Call For My Arrest
5. The Typhoid Mary of Disinformation: Nicolle Wallace
(Glenn Greenwald)
6. US-EU rift deepens over claims NSA spied on Spanish phone calls
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Golda Nolan II

Last Updated: 04/15/2023

Views: 5381

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (78 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Golda Nolan II

Birthday: 1998-05-14

Address: Suite 369 9754 Roberts Pines, West Benitaburgh, NM 69180-7958

Phone: +522993866487

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Worldbuilding, Shopping, Quilting, Cooking, Homebrewing, Leather crafting, Pet

Introduction: My name is Golda Nolan II, I am a thoughtful, clever, cute, jolly, brave, powerful, splendid person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.