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NSA knows how many times you've ordered pizza this month

June 8, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Well, our fine National Security Agency and Verizon have given me one more reason (not that I needed any more) to fear for our civil liberties.

Thanks to the London-based Guardian newspaper, the general public now knows that the NSA has been mining data about all of our cell phone usage for at least the past seven years. Somewhere in its files, the government has a record of every call you made to Domino's, every call you made to your mother or best friend or lawyer or boss. They know what phone you used to call them and how long each conversation was. I suppose it's small comfort that the NSA is apparently most interested in the phone conversations of suspicious foreigners and probably hasn't even bothered to look into why you have been ordering so much pizza from Domino's.

This latest egregious attack on our civil liberties is perfectly legal under the Patriot Act. It was done with the knowledge of every member of Congress and with court permission. However, no public debate was ever held and the public was never informed just what the NSA was up to. I have a problem with that. I also have a problem with many provisions of the Patriot Act, the sweeping legislation passed after 9/11. The legislation allows for "sneak and peek" warrants permitting law enforcement to break into your home without your knowledge, look around to see if there's anything there, and then use what they saw to obtain a traditional search warrant. The Patriot Act also gave the government the right to snoop through your library check-out records. It also allows law enforcement to obtain roving wire taps, which greatly expanded law enforcement's ability to spy on your phone use, since a surveillance court order need not specify all common carriers and third parties.

President Obama seems to believe that all of this is necessary to protect the country and that national security must be balanced with privacy. However, if the government keeps encroaching on our civil liberties in this way, just what does it think will be left of our freedoms to protect?

One of the greatest dangers is that all of this surveillance will result in people being afraid to exercise their right to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of association. I remember the first time that fear of the government caused me to exercise self-censorship. During the first Gulf War, when I was in college and on the fringes of what passed for the anti-war movement, I decided against going to a war protest that had been planned downtown. My college roommate, who had relatives who had reason to know, had told me that the FBI would be at that protest and would be taking pictures and probably writing down the names of every college student there holding a picket sign. If I showed up there, she implied, I would probably have my very own FBI file and it might even prevent me from getting a government job someday. Granted, half of what she told me was probably sheer paranoia and I might have gone anyway if I had felt more strongly about the war, but fear still caused me to hold my tongue. How much more damage will fear of the government do to potential dissenters and whistle blowers, now that they know they have real reason to fear?

Already, there are signs that people are practicing self-censorship following the revelation last month that the Obama administration had subpoenaed phone records from news reporters in a bid to find who in the administration was leaking information. Associated Press reporters have said that sources are afraid to talk to the press, fearing reprisals. This likely pleases the Obama Administration, but it should most definitely not please anyone who cares about freedom or where this nation is headed.


Article Comments



Jun-10-13 3:13 AM

I won't say that these measures are definitely unnecessary in regards to surveillance of terrorist suspects. My objection is to the scope of the operation, to the "ends justify the means" attitudes and the secrecy, which appears to have included lying to Congress or at least to telling half truths. also of interest is the upcoming trial of the guy who allegedly leaked classified material to Wikileaks. The government is seeking up to life in prison. Both of the leakers, Manning and Snowden, are looking at significant consequences. I think an argument can be made that they did the public a service, even though both may have broken the law.


Jun-10-13 12:08 AM

Snowden is quoted as saying that his "sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."

Isnt it funny that our own Government won't tell us what is happening to US? That we have to rely on a leak to find out that we are being spied on by our own country.. That google and facebook had no idea their connections were being tapped and data gathered from them..

Andre I think you are right.. He is bringing this out to SAVe his own life.. Had Obama been quick enough the guy would have been dead by now..

Why weren't this guys phone calls monitored? Obama afraid of dipping into China's business??

Seems Obama is not as good as he thought.. Seems Obama now has another scandal to try to beat down.. Seems Obama is getting his comeuppins!!


Jun-09-13 11:59 PM

President Obama, Clapper and others also have said the programs are subject to strict supervision of a secret court.

Wow I feel better already knowing Clapper just lied to Congress and said they were not tapping and then we have the Lord Of Truth himself Obama saying not to worry.. Its all done by a secret court..

Secret Transparency no doubt from the lefty's..


Jun-09-13 11:18 PM

Obama...The former constitutional law professor -- who rose to prominence in part by attacking what he called the government's post-Sept. 11 encroachment on civil liberties -- has undergone a philosophical evolution, arriving at what he now considers the right balance between national security prerogatives and personal privacy.

Funny how what he thought was wrong 7 years ago seems perfectly right today..

How long will it be before he evolves on Obamacare?


Jun-09-13 9:38 PM

Time will tell. He supposedly wants political asylum in Iceland. I think he probably went public with the whole thing to limit the chances that the U.S. can make him "disappear."


Jun-09-13 9:15 PM

Why is this brave, Tea Party patriot blowing his whistle from China? China? That's where this hero's protest for transparency in government took him?

Most likely he's been working for China this whole time.


Jun-09-13 7:37 PM

--continued -- by Democracy Now! in an interview conducted by Amy Goodman of Glenn Greenwald.

There's also more coming out about the guy who leaked the information, a 29-year-old guy named Edward Snowden, who is currently holed up in a hotel room in Hong Kong. He was employed by the government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii and had previously worked at the CIA.


Jun-09-13 7:34 PM

It really isn't possible to stay off the phone or off the Internet and live in this society, nor should we have to. There's nothing particularly damning about my calls to family members or Internet browing habits, but those are things that everyone has a right to keep private. Presumably the NSA is NOT paying attention to the vast majority of the data it has collected, but that data is there and ready to use if they ever decide they want to destroy someone -- a terrorist, political target, someone they want to use as leverage to take someone else down.

I'd also add that it looks like James Clapper, the U.S. intelligence chief, told some untruths to Congress about the extent of NSA spying back in March. Sen. Ron Wyden asked him, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper said in response: "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly." That was repor


Jun-09-13 6:55 PM

If you're really so worried -- you're perfectly free to hang up the phone and stay off the Internet.


Jun-09-13 4:46 PM

Oh, really? Metadata can tell the government quite a bit about its targets -- who you are calling, when you are calling, where you are calling from, how often you are calling the same number. It can be used to detect a pattern, track down the members of a particular group or to tell which government employee might be speaking to which reporter. It can be used just as easily against political groups like the Tea Party or the ACLU as it could against terrorist groups. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is pretty close to absolute power and, without appropriate limits, there is a good chance that this technology could be abused by the government and stifle freedoms.

I'm also a Verizon customer and I DO object. Boundaries need to be set and the entire program needs to be the subject of open debate at the Congressional level and probably at the court level, as well.


Jun-09-13 10:21 AM

Oh, I spoke and wrote about my concerns about the Patriot Act 12 years ago,too. I think it should be amended. More oversight in general is required.


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