Thursday, May 11, 2006

Big Brother Is Bigger Than We Thought

CBSNews.com: Bush Sidesteps NSA Spying Controversy:
(CBS/AP) Congressional Republicans and Democrats demanded answers from the Bush administration Thursday about a government spy agency secretly collecting records of ordinary Americans' phone calls to build a database of every call made within the country.

President Bush did not confirm the work of the National Security Agency but sought to assure Americans that their privacy is being "fiercely protected."

"We are not mining or trolling through the personal lives of innocent Americans," Mr. Bush said before leaving for a commencement address at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Biloxi.

President Bush said any domestic intelligence-gathering measures he's approved are "lawful," and said "appropriate" members of Congress have been briefed.

The disclosure could complicate Mr. Bush's bid to win confirmation of former NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden as CIA director.

"It is our government, it's not one party's government. It's America's government. Those entrusted with great power have a duty to answer to Americans what they are doing," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Three telephone companies, AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, began turning over records of tens of millions of their customers' phone calls to the National Security Agency program shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said USA Today, citing anonymous sources it said had direct knowledge of the arrangement.

[...]

Prior to the latest report, Specter said the committee "has been unable to perform our constitutional oversight responsibilities to determine the constitutionality of the program."

Leahy sounded incredulous about the latest report and railed against what he called a lack of congressional oversight. He argued that the media was doing the job of Congress.

"Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al Qaeda?" Leahy asked. "These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything. ... Where does it stop?"

[...]


The program does not involve listening to or taping the calls. Instead it documents who talks to whom in personal and business calls, and whether they are local or long distance, by tracking which numbers are called, USA Today said.

NSA is the same spy agency that conducts the controversial domestic eavesdropping program that has been acknowledged by President Bush. The president said last year that he authorized the NSA to listen, without warrants, to international phone calls involving Americans suspected of terrorist links.
So now we know what Gonzales meant when he kept referring to "the program we are addressing" and that there are other programs in play with perhaps even more questionable methods and legality. Phone records are often pulled by law enforcement to verify or disprove alibis, etc. during criminal investigations, but in such cases there is usually probable cause. Asking for the phone records of every person in the United States is a little over the top, don't you think? And what use will the NSA/CIA/Pentagon/White House/FBI/DHS make of such records? Couldn't they be mined for evidence of other activities besides terrorism?

No wonder some of the journalists have expressed concern about their contacts' confidentiality. Now we know why "Deep Throat" met with Woodward in a parking garage instead of talking on the phone. What protections do whistle blowers have if Big Brother can watch every communicational transaction that has taken place anywhere? What protections do any of us have?
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