News this week on how the federal government is collecting massive amounts of data on phone calls illustrates that there’s no end in sight for the post-9/11 privacy losses suffered by U.S. citizens.
The Guardian newspaper reports this week, “The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.”
It adds that this discovery “shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk — regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”
On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the program is not new; it’s been in place for the past seven years. “It’s called protecting America,” she told reporters during a news conference.
In defending the data collection, a White House spokesman said it is a “critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States.”
In its defense, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, “If we don’t do it, we’re crazy.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said NSA’s collection of phone records helped stop a “significant” terrorist plot “within the last few years.”
The obvious question is: If the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can order Verizon to turn over data, is the same being demanded from other telecoms?
No one in the know will answer that question, which is extremely telling.
While civil libertarians decry this news and some (though not all) members of Congress praise the program, it’s almost certain this sort of collection of meta-data is legal under the PATRIOT Act. (One important reminder: Under this program, the government isn’t able to listen in to phone conversations, merely look at the number of calls and when, where and to whom they were made.)
Consider this a fresh reminder that the biggest impact made by 9/11 is at home, as now two presidential administrations have taken extraordinary steps to prevent another another terrorist attack on our shores.