The facts have been revealed and it is indeed true that the sorts of invasive privacy denying tactics used by former President Bush after the original 9-11 attacks, as explicated and allowed by the Orwellian named “Patriot Act,” have not only secretly persisted under President Obama’s office, but they have been intensified. The latest: a secret court order has allowed the government to spy on its own citizens through looking at “metadata” over millions of phone calls – all Verizon phone calls for a three month period.
Metadata includes the serial number of the phone, its number, who it is calling, when, and from what locations (according to the closest radio tower to the cell phone). Such information is indiscriminate and in bulk – certainly nothing like “probable cause” is involved — but instead the government agency is interested in data mining, using algorithms to look for phone number interactions that might be telltale signs of terrorist activities.
Whether only Verizon is participating with this, or, more likely, other companies too, is at this time unknown. “We decline comment,” said Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden, as did most everybody else involved in this.
Julian Sanchez, a surveillance expert with the Cato Institute, said, as reported by the Guardian, “We’ve certainly seen the government increasingly straining the bounds of ‘relevance’ to collect large numbers of records at once – everyone at one or two degrees of separation from a target – but vacuuming all metadata up indiscriminately would be an extraordinary repudiation of any pretense of constraint or particularized suspicion.”
The U.S. government, in its own defense, claims that such metadata is public information, and so requires no warrant. The analogy is with the stamp and envelope on a letter sent in the mail. They even claim that by sharing your information with a provider, you are not keeping it private.
But an appellate court explains exactly what can be derived when an intelligence agency looks at such “envelope data”: “A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church-goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups, and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.” If all this can be determined simply by looking at patterns of your location, the other metadata can fill out the picture.
Though the secret court order that allowed this spying on millions of American citizens stipulated 3 months, it shows what the government is capable of, what it is willing to do, and it fills in some of the ambiguous warnings senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have given about the scope of the Obama administration’s domestic spying.
What do you think of the government’s recent actions involving spying on reporters and keeping track of cell phone records? Do you feel that actions like these are necessary to keep us safe from terrorists or do you see them as an invasion of privacy? Share your thoughts by commenting below.