Where is the outrage?

Where is the outrage?

Summary: Finally, now that USA Today has broken the story (NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls), people are beginning to take notice.  But is it too little, too late?

TOPICS: Verizon

Finally, now that USA Today has broken the story (NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls), people are beginning to take notice.  But is it too little, too late? 

The first hints of NSA data-mining telephone and internet traffic surfaced last year, when a 'leak' at the National Security Agency revealed that the government has been monitoring phone records since 2001.  At that time, we learned that the President had authorized this action without the oversight of the FISA court.  (I find it remarkable that there was a 'leak' at the nation's most secret agency -- that should have been a clue that something was wrong.)

Just a few weeks ago, the web started buzzing with rumors of an engineer who knew of a 'secret room' at an AT&T operations center where the NSA has set up shop.  Now we hear the truth (or some version of it) -- that the government has been spying on us all for five years now -- and none of us have had the benefit of a search warrant to protect our rights! 

The FISA court was established in 1978 under the auspices of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in order to provide judicial oversight of the government's activities through issuance of search warrants without compromising national security.  While bypassing the court, the White House left us with the distinct impression that data was only being collected on telephone calls between the United States and foreign locations.  It seems now that we were lied to.  Is this because the FISA court knew the White House was overstepping its bounds?

Before we go any further, what does the Constitution have to say on the subject?  The founding fathers, in their wisdom, crafted the Constitution with three branches of government, each of which would have a role in governing -- and in oversight of the actions of the other two branches.  Then they added the Bill of Rights, including ...

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This amendment was written at a time when the government could not read what you wrote or hear what you said without entering your home, reading your papers, and rummaging through your personal effects.  Nonetheless, as the technology has changed so have the legal precedents which have, until now, extended that right of privacy to all forms of personal communications. 

So what happened?  Well, 9/11 certainly played a crucial role.  FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) was the predictable outcome -- at least for those living on the coasts, and in major metropolitan areas.  Unfortunately, too many of us have forgotten the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  So here we are, happily giving up our liberties for a false promise of 'security'. 

What I find most alarming is that of the four telecommunications giants in the United States, only Qwest (the smallest of the 'baby bells') refused to cooperate with the NSA without the benefit of a search warrant.  When asked, the NSA informed Qwest that they were not inclined to seek a search warrant for their activity.  In response, Qwest refused to turn over the data.  So why didn't AT&T, Bellsouth, and Verizon's MCI operation do the same?

As far as I know, AT&T has not bothered to refute the claims of USA Today but both Bellsouth and Verizon (Verizon denies it gave numbers to NSA) have now denied that any calling records were provided to the NSA by them

It is disturbing that both Bellsouth and Verizon used very carefully crafted language -- not exactly confirming or denying what if anything was provided to anyone.  It makes you wonder what kind of pressure they are getting from the NSA to keep the lid on this. 

Our unwillingness to speak out against this breach of our civil liberties brings to mind the writing of Pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

It is time for us to stand up and say NO MORE!

Topic: Verizon

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Conscience and responsibility

    You noted an important issue when you wrote:
    "I find it remarkable that there was a 'leak' at the nation's most secret agency ? that should have been a clue that something was wrong."


    If the leak was not accidental, and it's difficult to hypothesize an accident which could cause this information to be released and find its way to the media, then someone knowingly released classified information.

    If the leak was intentional, then the motive may have been to influence the public. That influence could be a negative impression of those responsible for the actions in question or an attempt to cause the actions to cease.

    Whatever the reason for the leak, if it was in fact intentional then those responsible should of course be subject to severe criminal sanctions. Those sanctions should have been expected by those doing the leaking, and in fact they should have identified themselves to assure that the lengthy prison sentence could not be avoided.

    Civil disobedience has an honorable history. Leaking to show dissatisfaction, like spying for a foreign country, does not.

    An alternative for someone who disagreed with the action would have been to resign, and provide a reason for resignation which would indicate disagreement with the policy. That document would remain appropriately secret, like the program it criticizes.

    Individuals entrusted with secret information do not thereby gain the authority to influence the public nor to affect the initiatives on which they work.

    Though I can agree that some projects are wrong and protected only by secrecy, I don't want each individual working on every project to feel that the project continues only so long as he permits.
    Anton Philidor
    • By your logic

      All that the government has to do to cover up illegal activity is to classify it and no harm can come to them for breaking the law. Sounds like a wonderful plan to me.
      • Would you rather...

        ... anyone who disagrees with a policy's purpose or methods derails it by going to the press?

        By the way, I am not suggesting that someone who knows of a definitely illegal project should allow it to continue. There should be an agency which can investigate classified projects on whistle-blower report. But that agency should itself have clearance to and not disclose classified information.
        Anton Philidor
        • That is why the FISA court exists ...

          ... but the White House decided on its own that it could disregard FISA. The fact that the telecommunications giants did not demand a search warrant is alraming because if FISA wasn't invovled and the corporations weren't insistning on their rights of due process, including a search warrant, we haev NO ONE looking out for us.
          M Wagner
          • $

            The reason that telcos decided to break the law was because they would have lost contracts with the gov't. They had to worry about their bottom line and figured that breaking the law and hoping that noone would blow the whistle was the best way to proceed. Now they are trying their hardest to hide behind national security so that they don't have to go to court.
          • There was a Supreme Court case...

            ... saying that the record of a telephone call (not the content, but the existence of the call) does not require a warrant. Part of the reason is, it's used on the bill.

            If the government asked for only the information covered by that case, no warrant was necessary.
            Anton Philidor
          • More details

            The Court decision led to a law narrowing the scope of the permitted search, but those looking for the calls may have used one of the exceptions.

            Quoting from an article:

            Still, phone records are not the same as phone conversations, and the Supreme Court refused to extend the privacy protections of the Fourth Amendment to a list of dialed phone numbers.

            "We doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the [phone] number they dial," the court said in the 1979 case of Smith v. Maryland. This ruling allowed police to obtain phone records without a warrant.

            To close that loophole, Congress enacted the Electronic Communications Privacy Act forbidding phone companies from divulging phone records.

            The law includes several exceptions. Phone records may be disclosed "with the lawful consent of the customer." Another exception involves "any emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury."

            Bush administration officials may have argued they faced such a national emergency. Many Americans feared another terrorist attack within the United States, and officials were eager to quickly gather as much information as possible.

            "You can see how they could say that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11," Dempsey said. "I don't understand how that could serve as a 'good-faith' defense for years afterward."


            Looks to me like there's a good Court case coming up to resolve this issue.
            Anton Philidor
          • ...sort of...

            Supreme Court rulings are never final, and can be challenged. This ruling should be, and I think it can easily be overturned in Court. I expect privacy, because at the least my phone number implies my name and address (although AT&T and NSA claim no such personal identifiable information was given).

            To your argument that "its on the bill": So is my name, address, how much my bill is, my account number, etc. Do they get that information as well?
          • What? U.S. Supreme Court rulings ...

            ... are ALWAYS final when they pertain to existing law. The only way to deal with an unpopular Supreme Court decision is to re-write the law upon which it is based -- and do so in such a way that the new law is not unconstitutional. The other choice is, of course, a Constitutionl Amendment -- but that is a lot harder to accomplish.
            M Wagner
  • outraged?

    I would be outraged but thanks to the bell companies, all of my thoughts are now sifted through for national security reasons. So much for free speech.
  • Why there is no outrage...

    If this pre-empted American Idol, you might see more outrage.

    The reality is many in our society now don't even know what
    Vietnam was...They often don't know their own congressional
    representative....and certainly prefer not to keep up with the
    more complex issues of the day.

    And our Congress has lost its spine. As has the national media. I
    wonder if either entity really recognizes just how much voice
    they have given up.

    The events of 9/11 were easy for them to absorb. An attack, and
    a visual loss of lives, and buildings.

    The slow and subtle loss of our freedom, and personal rights is
    much more ambiguous to comprehend.

    "So it's off to American Idol...someone else will watch out for my
    interests. They have too...I don't want to be brought down...."
  • Story goes on

    Did you see today's story:


    Basically, the loophole in the law says that the telcos are REQUIRED to not only provide the information but also deny any knowledge that the transfer of information took place. Assuming, of course, they received a certificate from the Attorney General.

    What a pile of bunk!!! Where is the checks and balances? I would think that when the suit is filed, if some member of the executive branch claims this information is classified for national security, they would have to provide evidence of that security risk to one member of the judicial (aka the judge in the case). Seems simple enough to me....
    • Yeah, I read it ...

      ... I doubt this 'loophole law' is constituional. Time will tell. In my mind, if the telcos could be compelled to turn over the data without a court order, then why did the NSA let Qwest get away with denyiong their request. Qwst insisted on a warrant or a court order and the NSA said they had no inclinaiton to seek one -- and no one compelled Qwest to do anything.
      M Wagner

    The issue of privacy is one that should concern all of us and if there was any wrongful use of the phone logs then the responsible individuals should be held accountable. But, to use the logs just to cross reference numbers called that match those of known terrorists is justifiable and I support doing so. The individuals involved in terrorism need to be brought to justice and we should be relentless in pursuing them. Besides, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. Our freedom to argue against the collecting of these files is possible because Americans in the past took a stand for freedom. Please step up and do the same while you continue to scrutinize the actions of our government. Thank You
    • There is an important distinction between ...

      ... matching records of phone numbers belonging to known terrorists and trolling for information without probable cause. Without the courts looking over their shoulder, how do we know which the NSA was doing? The President's ignoring the lawfully constituted FISA court is tantamount to an abuse of power. Our forefathers faught against abuse of power. The scrutiny I offer is the same our forefathers would have expected from us all.
      M Wagner