White House defends years of collecting American’s phone data

WiretappingSenate Intelligence Committee leaders admit they’ve known for years that the National Security Agency has secretly obtained court orders to collect information from Verizon phone customers.

“As far as I know, this is the exact three-month renewal of what has been in place for the past seven years,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. said according to Politico. “This renewal is carried out by the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] under the business records section of the Patriot Act. Therefore it is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress.”

Verizon has over 86 million wireless subscribers. Adding business and residential land line subscribers brings its total customer base up to about 120 million, all of whom are subject to snooping by the court order.

The Obama administration acknowledged the disclosures in the Guardian newspaper report, but wouldn’t venture beyond anything contained in it.

“On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls,” said a senior administration official. “The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the name of any subscriber. It relates exclusively to metadata, such as a telephone number or the length of a call.” The official did not wish to be named.

“Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States,” the official said.

In one sentence, the administration official managed to use the word “terrorist” or “counterterrorism” four times, which may very well be more than the president has used the words in over four years in office.

While the Obama administration views its actions as necessary and even benign, and Congress would seem to agree, others aren’t so sure.

“This is an abuse of the Patriot Act on a massive scale,” said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “Since the law requires that the telephone records sought be relevant to an investigation, it appears that the FBI and the NSA may have launched the broadest investigation in history because everyone’s telephone calls seem to be relevant to it.”

Said another, “It’s analogous to the FBI stationing an agent outside every home in the country to track who goes in and who comes out,” said Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union according to the Wall Street Journal. “It provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies.”

Thomas Drake, a former top NSA official agrees. “It’s a total violation of the Fourth Amendment,” he said.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.


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