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May 11, 2006

"The Largest Database Ever Assembled" Politics  Rights, Law

You're no doubt aware that USA Today is reporting that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth have, since shortly after 9/11, been supplying the NSA with detailed information on every phone call made by any of its customers, private or commercial. From USA Today's article:

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

If it's really the largest database ever assembled, it's a hell of a lot more than phone records. The phone companies, after all, already have databases of phone records. This would have to be something much bigger. It would have to be data-mining on a colossal scale. As I wrote immediately after it was revealed that NSA was listening in on calls without getting FISA warrants:

The reason the White House didn't just go get FISA warrants for their wiretaps is almost certainly because they weren't doing wiretaps in the usual sense of the word. They were doing automated, broad-based scanning of enormous numbers of calls. For all we know, they were scanning every phone call in the country. Think Echelon and Total Information Awareness. Think data mining.

Is this normal government practice? Reed Hunt at TPMCafe:

No one should imagine that what NSA has done, if reports are accurate, is normal behavior or standard procedure in the interaction between a private communications network and the government. In an authoritarian country without a bill of rights and with state ownership of the communications network, such eavesdropping by people and computers is assumed to exist. But in the United States it is assumed not to occur, except under very carefully defined circumstances that, according to reports, were not present as NSA allegedly arm-twisted telephone companies into compliance. That is a topic that can't be avoided in [General Hayden's] hearing, if he gets that far. [Emphasis added]

CNN's Jack Cafferty says it best (video here):

We better all hope nothing happens to Arlen Specter, the Republican head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, because he might be all that is standing between us and a full-blown dictatorship in this country.

He's vowed to question these phone company executives about volunteering to provide the government with my telephone records and yours and tens of millions of other Americans. Shortly after 9/11, AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth began providing the super-secret NSA with information on phone calls of millions of our citizens. All part of the war on terror, President Bush says.

Why don't you go find Osama bin Laden and seal the country's borders and start inspecting the containers that come into our ports? The president rushed out this morning in the wake of this front page story in "USA Today" and declared the government is doing nothing wrong and all this is just fine.

Is it? Is it legal? Then why did the Justice Department suddenly drop its investigation of the warrantless spying on citizens? Because the NSA said Justice Department lawyers didn't have the necessary security clearance to do the investigation.

Read that sentence again. A secret government agency has told our Justice Department that it's not allowed to investigate it. And the Justice Department just says, OK, and drops the whole thing. We're in some serious trouble here, boys and girls.

Here's the question: Does it concern you that your phone company may be voluntarily providing your phone records to the government without your knowledge or your permission? If it doesn't, it sure as hell ought to. [Emphasis added]

And the thing is, you know this isn't all of it. Probably not even close. They're probably data-mining everything they can get their hands on: credit card records, bank statements, Internet usage.

And Cafferty's right. The fact that the NSA told the Justice Department to take a hike because it didn't have a sufficient security clearance to investigate them — and the fact that the Justice Department agreed — is the stuff of dictatorships.

Anybody who says it's ok that the government has completely shredded all civil liberties guarantees with respect to privacy and search and seizure, who says that it's ok because they've got nothing to hide, just doesn't have a clue what the US Constitution and the rule of law are all about. No one can be trusted with unchecked power. No one. Ever. That is why we have a Constitution and a body of laws that limit governmental power. Civics 101. This was the bedrock principle on which the Founders built the nation. People who want to consent to let all that go are just sheep voluntarily marching to slaughter.

Perhaps the most ludicrous thing of all is that Bush and his ilk declare themselves to be conservatives, when they are destroying every fundamental check and balance, every basic right, that a real conservative would be trying to conserve.

Posted by Jonathan at May 11, 2006 08:12 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb