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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-15-13 10:40 PM

willgrr, if it was wrong of others to say that to you (and perhaps it was, being the Patriot Act principles were NOT welcomed by all Republicans), then it's wrong of you to say that to others, coincidentally at a time when a Democrat president (and/or his administration) is using the Patriot Act's egregious principles in his own way.

Let's say it this way: if something's wrong, it's wrong, no matter if a Republican or a Democrat enacts it. Could we agree on that?


Jun-14-13 6:11 PM

I find it interesting that you seem to have so little outrage about what was revealed by Ed Snowden's leak. It's relevant now because we know the extent of the intrusion. If the wrong course has been followed for over a decade, perhaps there's still time to right it and put some restraints on what the government can do here.


Jun-14-13 5:07 PM

Delayed outrage is like pulling an alarm long after the fire's gone out.


Jun-14-13 11:16 AM

Yes, willgarr, we are all well aware that the Patriot Act has been in effect for over a decade. I've been saying that is should be amended since it was passed. Just because something has been going on for a long time doesn't mean it's right or moral. The government appears to me to be violating the fourth amendment. Laws need to be updated to protect the privacy rights of Americans.


Jun-13-13 4:24 PM

How about your private e-mails to friends and family? How about Facebook postings that you have restricted to "friends" only? There's a certain expectation of privacy there.

In the case of NSA and Verizon, we have a government agency snooping into who you called, what time you called, and where you called from. That's information that is NOT available to your general advertiser and that you have not freely volunteered. It can also be used to put together a potentially damaging dossier, including your associates, your political beliefs, events you have attended, etc. That sort of thing ought to require probable cause and a warrant.


Jun-13-13 11:23 AM

It's not "spying" if you happily plaster your personal information all over Facebook. It's called simply, "reading."


Jun-12-13 4:45 PM

"The issue is clandestine surveillance of 314 million Americans by the federal government."

Yes, Andrea, big bro is watching, in spite of the ability for dunderheads to broadcast all their personals.

Now for those who aren't providing the free show, does our gov't have the right to data mine your phone/internet activity? For *whatever* reason? At what point will the gov't say "OK, we know enough about you, you're not a threat with your pizza purchases and phone calls 3x a week to Mom?"

Guess what? No amount of information will ever be enough. A little look at the history of this world's governments of the past and present should tell us volumes. And with our gov't, we have an "ethics in technology" scenario on steroids.

It's not paranoia when they're spying on you, is it? (Sorry, couldn't resist...)


Jun-12-13 4:31 PM

Andrea said: "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."

Agreed. If our nation is one of laws, then presumably there shouldn't be a problem with the requirement of establishing probable cause and obtaining a warrant. It is one of our nation's great civil liberties, one hallmark of our unique form of government.

Andrea also said: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." I absolutely agree with that too. :-)


Jun-12-13 1:47 PM

And the question is whether they are justified in turning over that information en masse. I say they should not, not without establishing probable cause and getting a warrant from a court and that a public debate over this program should be held.


Jun-12-13 1:29 PM

Breaking News!

AT&T, Verizon, Google and FaceBook already collect your electronic data!

One man's surveillance data is another man's phone bill.


Jun-12-13 12:49 PM

No one is going to live like the Amish, nor should they have to. The issue is clandestine surveillance of 314 million Americans by the federal government.


Jun-12-13 10:28 AM


Exactly! Brilliantly stated!

If you're so concerned about privacy . . . stop broadcasting your every move.

The claim that one can't live without personal phone and internet use is patently false and utterly ridiculous. Poor folks live without it. The Amish and other groups live without it.


Jun-11-13 10:33 PM

So you want to talk about how President Obama and his administration overstepped their bounds & violated the privacy of practically every American in the country by monitoring & collecting vast amounts of phone calls, text messages and internet usage? Yea, sure, just give me one minute. I’ve been tweeting every single little thing I do – let me tell you, that takes up some time. Later, for lunch, I’m gonna Instagram what I’m eating while I update my Facebook info with my name, address, phone number, a million pictures of me, my family and friends and a detailed history of what places I visit and at what times. And then of course, I’ve been meaning to get onto Pinterest so I can finish pinning my favorite home design and architecture pictures so my personal preferences will be available to all who wants to see. So, remind me again…….what was it you wanted to talk about? Invasion of privacy?


Jun-11-13 9:58 PM

Geez all the bad memories kind w reminds me of Iran-Contra when Ollie couldn't recollect anything and Reagan was oblivious to anything....


Jun-11-13 5:21 PM

Even the poor these days generally have a cell phone and use the Internet at the library. To function in today's society, you need both. This surveillance intrudes upon everybody's rights.


Jun-11-13 4:58 PM

A surprising number of Americans go without telephone and internet. They're called "the poor."


Jun-11-13 4:46 PM

Impossible in this day and age, unless you feel like going to live in a cabin in the woods, without electricity or running water. Even then, you'll probably show up on Google Earth. Like it or not, these are legitimate concerns and should be the subject of open debate. The attack on the embassy in Benghazi and the government handling of that incident are ALSO worthy of debate and concern.


Jun-11-13 2:43 PM

It's a top secret program.

By definition, that means we do NOT know to what extent any civil liberties are being violated.

We do know that the Patriot Act was reauthorized into law as recently as last year. There were no objections from the cheap seats then. Perhaps we were all too busy with the fast and furious Benghazi-gate investigations to take notice.

Whatever the case . . .

Any patriot who now has pre-9/11 type concerns about the NSA program is perfectly free to HANG UP THE PHONE and GET OFF THE INTERNET.


Jun-11-13 1:37 PM

I think it's questionable that our civil liberties need to be violated to this extent to prevent terrorist attacks.


Jun-11-13 1:26 PM

"What good are civil liberties when you're dead?"

Spoken like a true Bushie.


Jun-11-13 12:46 PM

What good are civil liberties when you're dead?


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 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.


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