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NSA Collects Longest List Of Phone Sex Numbers Ever

·927 words·5 mins
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Despite my poking fun in the title, this is really serious stuff.

As a nation, we have all heard about the NSA tapping our phone lines for the administration’s domestic surveillance program. We have all heard how these warrant-less wiretaps were not processed by the courts but in secret, as well the president’s ridiculous assertions that this is completely legal and for the greater good. Investigation into these activities has proved difficult, if not impossible. In fact, government agencies have gone to great lengths to stifle such inquiries.

For example, the Justice Department recently dropped its inquiry into the matter of wiretaps as the NSA refused to grant their lawyers the necessary clearance to perform their investigation. Although that is far from the only legal setback in holding our government accountable for this program.

The EFF filed a class action suit accusing AT&T of colluding with the NSA to facilitate the extensive and illegal monitoring of American phone conversations. On May 1st, the Justice Department indicated its intention to make use of the State Secrets privilege, which would effectively quash the lawsuit. Of course, the government claims that this should not be seen as an admission of guilt, as they state in their official filing.

When allegations are made about purported classified government activities or relationships, regardless of whether those allegations are accurate, the existence or non-existence of the activity or relationship is potentially a state secret. Therefore, the assertion of the state secrets privilege, as a general matter, does not mean that any particular allegation is true but is a reflection of the subject matter at issue.

This reeks of dictatorial lies and the security blog, 27B Stroke 6 has posted a very good rebuttal.

All these facts are quite troubling. However, it seems the more we learn the worse and more far-reaching this domestic surveillance program turns out to be.

On top of all of above, we have now learned that the NSA, with the cooperation of AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon, has been data-mining company records to build a database of every phone call made within to and from callers in the United States. While this particular part of the program does not include the monitoring or recording of the phone conversations, the program logs the calls made of “tens of millions of Americans” (Source: USA Today) regardless of whether or not they are suspected of a crime. According the USA Today article, this program has been actively collecting data since the September 11th attacks of 2001.

Only one of the companies approached by the NSA refused to cooperate, and that was Qwest, who refused on grounds of legal and privacy concerns. According to USA Today’s sources, Qwest requested an official court subpoena, which the NSA refused to acquire.

From USA Today:

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest’s lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA >court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

The NSA’s explanation did little to satisfy Qwest’s lawyers. “They told (Qwest) they didn’t want to do that because >FISA might not agree with them,” one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest’s >suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general’s office. A second person confirmed this >version of events.

27B Stroke 6 points out that under the circumstances, Qwest had good reason to refuse:

Qwest had good reason to be queasy. Federal telecommunications law imposes harsh financial penalties on disclosing calling information without a proper subpoena or letter from the attorney general. Fines can be as high as $130,000 a day per violation.

By this standard, AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon might be in for a hell of a loss if this ever makes it to the courts. Although under this administration, they might avoid the legal system all together.

Members of Congress have expressed their outrage and their intention to investigate further into this matter.

Just this morning, President Bush read a prepared statement regarding this story, virtually confirming the existence of the program. 27B Stroke 6 has posted a rush transcript of the president’s remarks with some insightful annotation. It is well worth your time to read. What amuses me is that as is typically the case when one of the administration’s illegal programs is revealed to the public, the president cautions how publishing information can damage national security.

Finally, as a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy. Our most important job is to protect the American people from another attack and we will do so within the laws of our country.

Apparently, if the American people learn how their government is illegally spying on them and infringing their rights, then it can only help the terrorists. We all know what a danger truth, civil liberties and the upholding of the law can be to our freedom.

One of the saddest things in this, is that I don’t find any of it surprising. It is a thing to mourn that we have come to expect this kind of twisted thinking from our government, and I shudder to think of how much farther things can go before we as a people can turn the tide back. How much worse do things have to get before we demand that the eroding of our civil liberties stop? How much longer will we agree to participate in this administration’s culture of fear?

I don’t have any answers for you, but maybe it is enough to start with the questions.