the nsa’s warrentless spying on americans is worse that we imagined

After it first became known that the NSA was tapping phones in America without warrants, Bush assured us that “our intelligence activities strictly target Al Qaeda and their known affiliates.” I’m not sure how he reconciles that with the news, as reported by USA Today this morning, that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth have been handing over the phone records of “tens of millions of Americans” to the government. Are we to believe that tens of millions of us have ties to Al Qaeda? Or, was Bush lying?

Here’s a clip from the USA Today article entitled, “NSA has massive database of Americans’ phone calls“:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

“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…

Instead of dwelling on the negative, let me share one encouraging piece of information with you. According to USA Today, one communications company, Qwest, stood up to the administration and told them that they would not be participating. (Unfortunately, I just checked and it doesn’t look as though they provide service in Michigan. If they did, I’d switch in an instant.) According to Think Progress, the three telcos that did assist the NSA could be liable under existing law for tens of billions of dollars. Of course, it’s unlikely that our courts would side against these corporations, but I like that there’s a chance for an enormous class-action lawsuit against them. (I suspect that the trial lawyers of America would love to have an opportunity to meet the people who have vilified them for so long in court.)

Another encouraging thing is that Arlen Specter is calling for executives from these telephone companies to testify before Congress… Sure, Spectre has a pretty shitty record when it comes to following through, but it’s still good to know that there’s a chance that this might get the attention that it deserves in Congress. (If you want to write to Specter and encourage him to follow though, you can contact him here.)

And, as long as we’re exploring the realms of the fantastically optimistic, just imagine if we could somehow harness the power generated by our founding fathers spinning in their graves — 100% energy independence overnight!

Back to reality now, I wonder if this is even the last shoe to drop. If recent history is any guide, there may be others. And, it could get even worse.

[Sorry to have sidetracked you from your pursuit of information about Ashlee Simpson’s nose job, but I thought that this was important.]

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10 Comments

  1. Sam
    Posted May 12, 2006 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Mark

    I wrote a post this morning about a movement I want to start. From now on I will no longer use the term christian conservative. If you look at the dictionary definition of conservative these people don’t fit. Let’s all start calling them what they really are CHRISTIAN FASCISTS.

  2. dorothy
    Posted May 12, 2006 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    this is beginning to look more and more like the 1930’s to me. i lived thru it once—dear god, do i have to go thru it again? i’m already on some kind of watch list because i donated $100 to fidel castro’s “tractors for freedom” fund back in the 1960’s. what does it take to wake the american public up? everyone i talk to just blows things off, saying,”i don’t have to worry, i’m not a terrorist. i don’t have anything to hide.” can people really be that dumb and unaware? i’m so glad my time here is almost over, but i shudder for my grandchildren.

  3. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted May 12, 2006 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    “Qwest wants the terrorists to win!”

    I say we start a protest!

  4. murph
    Posted May 12, 2006 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Does anybody know which cell phone cos with local service aren’t branches of the offending phone cos?

    Verizon Wireless -> Verizon, obvs

    Cingular -> AT&T + BellSouth

    Sprint/Nextel looks like a standalone co?

    On the other hand, don’t know if I can afford to buy out of our current contract right now, and doubt Verizon would let me out.

  5. mark
    Posted May 13, 2006 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m still looking into it, Murph. I’ll let you know if I find anything out.

    I heard someone today speculating that it’s just the first step in a big sting operation – that the government is going to watch who switches over to Qwest and then arrest them under the assumption that they have something to hide.

    And, Dorothy, plese don’t give up and die on us. We like you around here, and, more importantly, Linette and I are planning to move in with you and your family once society stops functioning… If you do feel as though you’re going to die sometime soon, god forbid, please update your will first to reflect the fact that Linette, Clementine and I are allowed into the compound. (I’ve calculated how much fuel it’ll take us to get there in the hybrid and I’ve got it stored in milk jugs in the basement, just in case.)

  6. murph
    Posted May 13, 2006 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Check out Working Assets response to the spying. Working Assets gives part of their profits to, among other causes, the ACLU, and has signed onto the ACLU’s suit against the NSA, and are hitting this hard as a marketing point. They offer cell service in both A2 and Ypsi, looks like at competitive rates to my current Verizon plan.

    They push their calls through Sprint’s network, apparently; Sprint has informed them that Sprint did not provide any information to the NSA. Additionally, Sprint doesn’t have access to Working Assets’ customer information, such as name and address.

    Sounds like I know who my next cell plan will be through.

  7. Dr Cherry
    Posted May 22, 2006 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to go on record as imagining the spying was this bad.

  8. mark
    Posted May 22, 2006 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    It’s actually worse… Did you read Wired News today? They released the sealed documents in the EFF suit. It’s pretty amazing stuff. AT&T has been helping the government record every single keystroke you’ve made on the internet.

  9. Dr Cherry
    Posted May 23, 2006 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I try to avoid Wired whenever possible but I did see the fruit of the EFF FOIAS. It’s nice to be vindicated once in a while.

    I can’t say I’m shocked by this, the EFF has been warning us for several years about Carnivore, Omnivore, and their successors.

    I’m curious how NSA and ATT legal council justified this:

    “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.”

  10. mark
    Posted May 23, 2006 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    It won’t happen, but lots and lots of people should be in prison as a result of this.

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