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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.
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