Friday, May 12, 2006

What Could YOU Do With Dozens of Millions of Phone Records?

Are you one of those people whose first reaction to yesterday's revelation that the NSA has been secretly compiling a humongous database of phone records covering damn near everybody in America was, "So? President Bush says they're protecting the privacy of ordinary Americans, and hey, what harm could the government do with records telling them nothing but who called whom and when, anyway?" Then Robert Parry can help you broaden your imagination:
In his brief remarks, however, Bush didn’t define what he meant by "ordinary Americans" nor whether the data-mining might cover, say, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people, just not "millions."

For instance, would a journalist covering national security be regarded as an "ordinary American"? What about a political opponent or an anti-war activist who has criticized administration policies in the Middle East? Such "unordinary" people might number in the tens of thousands, but perhaps not into the millions.

Also, isn’t it reasonable to suspect that the Bush administration would be tempted to tap into its huge database to, say, check on who might have been calling reporters at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker—or now USA Today—where significant national security stories have been published?

Or during Campaign 2004, wouldn’t the White House political apparatchiks have been eager to know whether, say, Sen. John Kerry had been in touch with foreign officials who might have confided that they were worried about Bush gaining a second term?

Or what about calls to and from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald while he investigates a White House leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, the CIA officer married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an Iraq War critic?

What if one of these "unordinary" Americans had placed a lot of calls to an illicit lover or a psychiatrist? Wouldn’t Bush’s aggressive political operatives know just how to make the most of such information?

I mean, jeez, it's not like the government hasn't done sleazy, anti-democratic things before. Is it so hard to believe that this administration might be up to similar tricks again? Existing law already lets the government spy on Americans with judicial oversight; why is the Bush Administration so intent on getting around these traditional safeguards against tyranny? Do they really think that there are millions of Al Qaeda operatives out there in the homeland? This isn't about "spying on terrorists"; everyone I know is happy to let the government do that. This is about whether the government has the right to spy on everyone, regardless of whether there is probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or any reason at all to think they have ties to terrorists. If you think the government ought to have that right, then please don't come to me with that idiot question, "Why do you hate America?" You're the one who's driven a stake through its heart.

For more on this and any other Bush surveillance scandal, bookmark and read the indispensable Glenn Greenwald. You'll be glad you did.

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