NSA Probably has Your Phone Records

NSA Spying

Just last week a friend joked, “Between you, me, and the NSA reading this text message right now.” It’s a joke that has become common in the post-9/11 world, but we got a sobering reminder as to why it’s no longer funny.

The National Security Agency (NSA) obtained a court order in April requiring Verizon to turn over phone records of all calls on its network for no apparent reason at all. Glenn Greenwald broke the story last night at The Guardian (emphasis mine):

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

This type of court order — a “general warrant” — is exactly why we have the Fourth Amendment. Writing on the topic of NSA spying on “foreign targets” at The Hill just last year, Julian Sanchez noted that “one of the primary purposes of the Fourth Amendment was to abolish the ‘general warrants’ so detested by American colonists.”

“These gave authorities the power to invade any private home, not just the specific places mentioned in the warrant, in search of evidence. For the Framers of our Constitution, the fact that no specific citizen was named as the “target” of a general warrant was exactly what made it so abhorrent,” he added.

Another curious point is that the court order — which is, as Timothy Lee notes, based on Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act — wasn’t supposed to be declassified for 25 years — on April 12, 2038.

The NSA has actually been doing this for a while. You may recall that the Bush Administration came under fire in 2006 and 2007 when the NSA was collecting phone records in similar fashion.

The NSA has a section up on its website about its domestic surveillance program. Under the header, “Your Data: If You Have Nothing to Hide, You Have Nothing to Fear,” the agency explains that domestic surveillance “plays a vital role in our national security by maintaining a total information awareness of all domestic activities by using advanced data mining systems to ‘connect the dots’ to identify suspicious patterns.”

Here’s what the Fourth Amendment says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

There is not a “If You Have Nothing to Hide, You Have Nothing to Fear” Clause anywhere to be found in the Fourth Amendment, nor anywhere else in the Constitution.

If you’re playing along at home, this is what the Bill of Rights — your guaranteed civil liberties — looks like according to President Barack Obama:

Obama's Bill of Rights


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