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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-11-13 8:51 AM

Seems Obama has a few questions to answer to his overseas friends.. Germany wants to know what information Obama has gathered off phone calls made to Germany..

The European Parliament, through its 27-nation executive arm, will debate the spy programs and whether they have violated local privacy protections.

Seems Obama may have "again" put the screws to America.. Seems he doesn't have a clue about the law he studied at college.. No wonder he won't release his grades.. He obviously doesn't know anything about international law and stepping on the toes of foreign countries with his wire tapping and data gathering..

Matt If the IRS is handing out Private information it is a violation of our privacy. Weather it be NSA or the IRS ...


Jun-11-13 8:37 AM

"What does any of that have to do with the NSA's surveillance of 314 million Americans?"

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.


Jun-11-13 8:36 AM

Funny willgarr Reed got a look at Romneys taxes.. Wonder how that happened???


Jun-11-13 3:04 AM

Civil Liberties, to me are the right to tell the President to*****off, or my Governor.

1. Right to sue for wrongful actions. 2. Right to not be discriminated against because of who I am. 3. Trial by Jury. 4. To say what I want about anyone or anything. etc...

My future employer may get access to my Facebook account which I count as an unwarranted intrusion of my privacy and my civil liberties.

The NSA having unlimited access is scary but realistically it is already there. The difference is that you have to do something wrong to have them look at it. Patriot ACT changed that. Abuse is possible but bringing it to trial is another thing.

Bottom line is real privacy left the building in the 90's with the internet and big brain computers. This by itself is not worth the drama in the USA. Other countries will use it to hammer anyone who disagrees, and that is of Massive concern. China etc.


Jun-11-13 1:55 AM

What does any of that have to do with the NSA's surveillance of 314 million Americans?


Jun-10-13 11:38 PM

If you live in North Dakota you should check statistics before you say you fear the government. That would take some digging but let me tell you the statistics: (Quoted from Wall Street Journal, latest statistics for 2010 pre flood federal spending including Minot and Fargo) > Federal spending per capita net of income taxes: $10,438 > Total federal spending per capita: $12,930 > Federal income taxes per capita: $2,492 So it’s strange when you live in North Dakota and say you fear the government and yet you are willing to live in a state that is ranked number THREE of all states for receiving federal money from the government you fear. And, this was before the flood! My dad used to say “don’t bad mouth the farmers with your mouth full”. Good advice.


Jun-10-13 5:55 PM

The question is how many of your civil liberties are you willing to give up for the promise of security. To quote Thomas Jefferson: "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."


Jun-10-13 5:04 PM

It "appears to have gone far beyond what was envisioned," eh?

What was envisioned was another 9/11.


Jun-10-13 4:30 PM

Jim Sensenbrenner, an author of the original PATRIOT Act now says that the NSA appears to have gone far beyond what was envisioned when the legislation was passed. Yes, it started in the Bush administration and was continued and apparently expanded upon in the Obama administration. It was wrong-headed in 2001 and it's wrongheaded now, regardless of whether the Republicans or the Democrats are behind it. They need to be called to account and a public debate needs to be had over the NSA's actions. I think the PATRIOT Act should be repealed; failing that, it should be amended to require that the NSA establish probable cause and get a search warrant before mining anyone's metadata.


Jun-10-13 4:24 PM

I am speaking for myself.

These NSA programs were all started under Republican George Bush -- who twice took this state in a landslide.

One's disagreement with this or that individual policy matters little. Voters don't set policy -- they vote to make changes or to "stay the course."

I can get exact election statistics, if needed -- but I'm sure we can all agree this was a decidely "stay the course" red state.


Jun-10-13 2:41 PM

"Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty here. The system itself is corrupt."

I think it's clear who the REAL partisans are in this board. You know...the people who want to pin this thing entirely to one or the other...


Jun-10-13 1:51 PM

Speak for yourself. I was against the PATRIOT Act in 2001 and said so. I have always been against government intrusion on our civil liberties. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty here. The system itself is corrupt. Fourth Amendment protections must protect speech on the Internet, cell phones, and other 21st century communications. The laws have not caught up with the way people actually live their lives. The NSA's actions are no different from what was common practice by the British prior to the start of the Revolutionary War -- warrantless searches of people's homes and valuables. These days, what happens online is as or more valuable than the physical property that the government should be prohibited from invading without a warrant under the Fourth Amendment.


Jun-10-13 1:37 PM

Now the Tea Partisans want to play act like they're naive newbies to the war on terror.

The government's widespread data surveillance was specifically declared legal under the old Patriot Act.

Remember the Patriot Act?

You should . . . you happily approved of it and its creators: the Republican Fear-mongers of the Bush Administration. And, you continue to vote for Republicans to this day!

Feigning shock and ignorance simply will not work. You, as lock-step Republican voters, are directly responsible for these policies.

You are being monitored and tracked by your government. What's more, you are paying exorbitant amounts of money for it.


Because that's what you people voted for.


Jun-10-13 1:24 PM

LOL Minot, I do indeed suggest that people contact their Congressional representatives to express their opinions on this surveillance.

On the other hand, I presume that some peon in the administration has been charged with tracking all news articles, blog entries and online comments on this issue. If so, he's about to get an earful.


Jun-10-13 1:21 PM

The system itself is at fault here. Neither Republicans or Democrats are blameless. There are supporters and opponents of this action from both parties.

If this level of surveillance is, in fact, necessary for some reason, let these people make their case in the public square. It's unacceptable that it has been done in secret for seven or more years. We did not elect kings or dictators.


Jun-10-13 1:21 PM

The system itself is at fault here. Neither Republicans or Democrats are blameless. There are supporters and opponents of this action from both parties.

If this level of surveillance is, in fact, necessary for some reason, let these people make their case in the public square. It's unacceptable that it has been done in secret for seven or more years. We did not elect kings or dictators.


Jun-10-13 1:17 PM

First, it's not just Verizon who was ordered to provide information. It's Google, Facebook, AT&T, etc.

Second, if you don't like what's happening you can either b!tch about it here or contact your elected officials in Washington. Call and write repeatedly.

Third, nobody should be surprised at this. You should be surprised it took this long for a British newspaper to break the story.

Finally, isn't this exactly what those who hold the 2nd Amendment sacred cling to as their right to protect themselves from tyrannical Government?


Jun-10-13 1:08 PM

"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."

It is little comfort indeed.


Jun-10-13 1:02 PM

Obama is Bush on Steroids, plus a whopping hate for American Freedom

Why does Obama feel the need to know which Pizza I ordered for dinner? Is he collecting information for Michelle to find out if we follow her food rules.

I agree with Andrea that some good comes from monitoring just like the screens on blogs that wipe out dirty words..but my gosh.. when you call your kid and talk about her pregnancy or her marital life is this really necessary for Obama to know?

Really Barry? You need to know about personal life to do your job? Oh wait I am sure you know nothing about this. Its always someone else's fault..

All this act was written for was to target suspicious calls mostly out of the USA.. Key words were to be picked up and sorted out and those conversations investigated.. Not at the rate Obama has ordered these spies into our life.


Jun-10-13 12:05 PM

As for the foiled attack on the New York subway, I question whether PRISM or similar secret programs were ecessary to obtain that information. It sounds like they were targeting accounts associated with known terrorist groups. Why do they need to sweep up the phone and e-mail records of every American -- my e-mail to my mom, someone else's call to Domino's, etc. -- to figure out what a terrorist suspect might be up to. They should have been able to prove probable cause and gain access anyway. I've also seen some reports that suggest that NYPD police work actually foiled that plot.

Again, we need open debate about this in Congress and in the courts and we should not permit officials to outright lie to Congress about the extent of the surveillance of the population.


Jun-10-13 11:56 AM

I think the point of all the uproar is that all of us are being monitored and tracked. The point is that the fear of being monitored and tracked has the potential to scare people away from exercising their right to freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly and other constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms.

Paul was quoted as saying that he doesn't object to the government tracking the activities of suspected terrorists, but accessing over a billion calls of ordinary citizens is a clear abuse of power. Probable cause should be required for mining metadata as well as for wiretaps.


Jun-10-13 11:28 AM

Yeah, well you tell that to your pal, Najibullah Zazi.

In the meantime . . . just know you're being monitored and tracked.


Jun-10-13 11:28 AM

What qualifies as treason? Just when is it acceptable to bypass the Fourth Amendment and how should it be applied in the 21st century? That's a debate that should have been held in the open and hasn't been, either in the Obama administration or in the Bush administration. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty here; protests against this have nothing to do with Obama's race. Any attempt to blame racism for legitimate concerns is just derailing the argument.

Rand Paul has introduced legislation called "The Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act of 2013" that would require the government to establish probable cause and obtain a warrant before mining this type of information from phone records. He's also threatening a class action lawsuit. I wouldn't say Paul is entirely trustworthy either, but so far he seems to be one of the few politicians trying to do anything about these activities.


Jun-10-13 10:50 AM

Your so bright namexxxx I mean how could you not be the most brilliant person in the world..

Also what does the color black have to do with bad policy? Are we suppose to except 2nd or 3rd rate leadership because Obama is black? This Ain't college buddy this is the POTUS>.

Smarten up!!!


Jun-10-13 10:07 AM

In their unbridled rush to be against anything our first Black President is for -- the Tea Party patriots have now aligned themselves with terrorists like Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis.

This enemy of the state is one of the would-be bombers who -- thanks to the NSA's data mining operation -- was prevented from blowing up the Federal Reserve Building in Manhattan.


Any person, group or organization who supports terrorists can expect to have their phones tapped and their email read.

Treason will not be tolerated -- we don't care how many funny old period costumes you wear.


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