NSA seizes phone records of millions of Verizon customers

NSA eagle comicYesterday, the English newspaper “The Guardian” broke the story that the National Security Agency (NSA) collects the phone records of millions of Verizon customers on a daily basis.  The U.S. government has not confirmed the report.  The practice of wire-tapping and intruding into a citizen’s right to privacy began with the Patriot Act issued under the Bush administration.  After the September 11th attacks, the government did what it deemed necessary to thwart terrorism.

The Bush administration was endlessly criticized by Democrats, including then-Senator Barack Obama in this intrusion of privacy.  Senator Obama promised during his first presidential campaign that he would not only put a stop to such practices, but his administration would be the “most transparent” in political history.  Someone online wondered if he meant that the American people were going to be “the most transparent” in American history.

Earlier this morning my fellow blogger, Mariam, posted her opinion on the matter.  She is dismayed at the practices continued in this administration and states she is having “a bit of an existential crisis with this.”  Like most topics, I agree with her on some points, but not all of them.  As we went back and forth in her comment page it dawned on me that I should simply post a rebuttal of sorts.  After all, this sort of debate is the genesis for this blog.

It might seem contrary to other stances but for the most part I am okay with sacrificing a bit of my privacy in return for the benefit of preventing future terrorist’s attacks.  I cannot fault President Obama for continuing such a practice.  We, as regular citizens, have no idea the benefits of such practices.  We have no idea how many people have been saved, how many attacks have been prevented.  We don’t know, and very well may never know.

I cannot fault the president because I supported such practices during the Bush administration.  It would be hypocritical to now backtrack simply because President Obama is a Democrat.  I am not afraid of siding with the president.  As I like to say, I am a conservative who is not beholden to the GOP.  I form my own ideas and beliefs and stand firm in protecting my freedom of opinion.

There is no indication that the government is listening in on our conversations.  Simply knowing who I called and for how long is a government intrusion I am comfortable in allowing.  If the information obtained in seizing millions of records helps thwart one terrorist plot, isn’t it worth it?

Now, I should add one caveat.  Megan McArdle, special correspondent for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, posted an interesting and thought-provoking article this morning on the Daily Beast.  I think the article greatly compliments Mariam’s post.  I think her conclusion is well-written.

She writes:

“My greatest fear is not that this surveillance will turn out to be more widespread.  My greatest fear is that we will find out they are spying on us, and the American public will yawn. And in some secret room, bureaucrats and politicians will note that the American public does not care, and turn to discussing how much more spying they can get away with.”

McArdle brings forth a great point.  Although I might be okay with the current intrusion I am now aware of, it does not mean that I am okay with even more intrusive methods.  She brings forth a great consequence to my leniency.  I will tell you one thing: I am not OKAY with further government overreach.  I think it is important we as citizens make it clear that we will continue to hold our politicians responsible and that there are limits to our willingness to cede our constitutional rights.

After all, at which point does our constant inaction cripple our right to privacy?

Our constitutional rights guaranteed to every citizen.

I’m interested to read what you think.

Email: realtalkdebate2012@gmail.com

Twitter: @adrakontaidis & @talkrealdebate

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About adrakontaidis

A conservative who doesn't pander to the GOP.

16 responses to “NSA seizes phone records of millions of Verizon customers”

  1. mariampera says :

    Very nice rebuttal. I agree with much of your thinking, but of course am in exact line with McArdle’s point. It’s a slippery slope we’re on. Let’s not give them the rope to hang us with.

  2. JF Owen says :

    It’s semantics to some degree, but there is a difference between a right to privacy and protection against unreasonable search. Our constitution protects us against unreasonable search, but it doesn’t guarantee us privacy. Beyond that, while there are some laws that grant a measure of privacy in specific areas, HIPAA for example, we have no laws that define or grant privacy as a general right. We lag far behind Europe in that regard.

    Having said that, I tend to agree with Benjamin Franklin when he said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The slippery slope that Mariam mentioned is real and ominous. I opposed many of the activities that were initiated under the Bush administration in the name of national security and I oppose them now under the Obama administration.

    I know that many disagree and I understand the arguments they present, but I can’t make myself comfortable with jumping off of the edge of the cliff and riding down that treacherous slope.

    • realtalkrealdebate says :

      I certainly don’t and haven’t supported complete intrusion to our right to privacy. As I said in my piece the current method I am reluctantly comfortable with. We do know that at least one domestic terrorist attack was thwarted in the past few years because of this method. To me this is worth it.

      But like Mariam and you have said there is a slippery slope that I too I’m not comfortable going over.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Kamil Zawadzki says :

    I don’t know… I’ve become increasingly jaded, and when McArdle mentions fearing that the American public will yawn at such revelations, I feel compelled to offer a news flash: we’re already there, and have been for a while. Except it’s selective. Selective outrage is very well in vogue, on both sides of the aisle. The hypocrisy is maddening, and I’m certainly no less complicit in it than anyone else is.

    The Democrats made a big deal of it back when GWB was using the NSA to collect the same records from telecomm companies. Now, they scoff at best. After all, not only is it their guy in the White House now, but they need to be seen as tough on security matters, no matter how nebulous the justification for this records seizure may be on counter-terror grounds. For their part, not everyone in the GOP is suddenly crying outrage, either (see comments from, say, Lindsey Graham.)

    However, that’s just the politicians…

    The American public is another monster. We are so divided along party lines and ideologies now that they and the pundits they listen to only cry foul when it suits them.
    We already saw this with the DoJ scandals earlier regarding the media… When the Associated Press found out its phone records were subpoenad, the more prominent of the right-wing pundits, including that well of wisdom that is Bill O’Reilly, shrugged, said it was no big deal, while many among the right-wing of the American public sneered that finally, the media’s love affair with Obama is over. But when it turned out a few days later that the DoJ was also targeting a Fox News reporter, that’s when all of a sudden freedom of press was being extinguished. It was okay, until it was one of their own.
    It’s laughable.

    And it’s going to be the same here.

    Libertarians have always been the loudest about watching for government overreach, but they got louder yet after the Democrats took over the White House.
    And now, they are overjoyed that their conspiracy-mongering could actually have some grain of legitimacy. But rather than offering alternative policies that would protect civil liberties while ensuring national security, they care more about the points their cliques will score over these scandals. They relish saying “I told you so” more than they do actually contributing anything constructive.

    Furthermore, we always make the mistake of placing all the blame at the White House. That’s been done during every administration. And it’s an unfortunate symptom of our presidential system, but we totally forget that we still have a legislature that has to pass laws in the first place. Congress has had a role in this matter, too, and it’s had a role in every administration since the NSA was created, as mentioned by this Salon.com article:

    “Each American president since the start of the Cold War (or, truthfully, since the start of World War II) has always only expanded, and never restricted the powers of the NSA and the rest of the national security state. Congress, which is supposed to be offering oversight, has not seriously acted to restrict intelligence gathering activities since that first FISA bill. Indeed, given multiple opportunities to amend the act, Congress, since 9/11, has only endorsed and legalized the actions of the NSA.”
    http://www.salon.com/2013/06/06/the_nsa_has_all_your_info/

    But what does Congress do? The only thing both parties unite on is expanding security powers, and that’s all – and then later the opposition party bitches about overreach on things THEY VOTED FOR (see NDAA, which, let’s face it, if Obama hadn’t signed, he’d be crucified for not supporting proper funding for security and defense agencies). Oh, and then we have vote after failed vote on repealing Obamacare, all the while we can’t even get a gun background checks bill passed that has MASSIVE public support.
    If Obama’s a hypocrite, Congress, too, has been pathetic.

    As far as I go, I don’t think it’s right for the government to collect this information from everyone ‘just ’cause.’ It was wrong when Bush did it. It’s wrong when Obama does it. And I do see the point that Obama spent so much time making himself the anti-Bush and talking about stopping government overreach and the war on terror and yet here we are. But look how we got here. And look how long we’ve been on this path.

    Obama should be taken to task for saying one thing and doing the other, yes. But should he be held to a higher standard than his predecessor or successor? No. When Bush did it and people on the Left criticized, we were all written off as nutty at best and unpatriotic at worst, told to “like it or leave it.”
    Now the shoe is on the other foot. And NOW we’re worried and outraged? Please.

    Frankly, I don’t understand where the hell people have been for the past decade as far as wiretapping, the war on terror, etc. I’m not surprised that this is still going on, no matter what Obama had said on the stump in 2004 or 2008 or even 2012. What surprises me is that all of a sudden people act pissed, as if all of this began the day he took office. It didn’t. We’ve been on this path for a decade.
    We are still nowhere near a totalitarian system. Not even authoritarianism. But our democratic (small-case-d) politicians must all act to ensure a better balance of security and freedom. This is a call to action LONG overdue.

  4. Kamil Zawadzki says :

    Just to clarify my rant above… I do think people have a right to be upset and angry about this, but that right is qualified by credibility.
    Consistency on issues like this helps build credibility. Obama’s may have been severely diminished here, but what of large chunks of the voting American public?
    Hypocrisy and the art of the flip-flop, in addition to the selective outrage I mentioned above, are not limited to politicians.

  5. Kamil Zawadzki says :

    Addendum to that addendum:
    Just saw what Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) had to say about it, and I totally agree:
    “Today’s revelation is disturbing, but it should not be surprising. I have tried to reform this provision of the Patriot Act for years, introducing legislation and offering amendments to ensure that secret demands for sensitive personal information on Americans is limited only to those individuals suspected of being involved in plots against our country. As I said when I offered my amendment in 2009, ‘someday the cloak will be lifted and future generations will ask whether our actions today meet the test of a democratic society — transparency, accountability and fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution.’ Today that cloak has been lifted and this important debate must begin again.”

    Time to review and either reform or repeal the Patriot Act. Let’s get on that.

    • realtalkrealdebate says :

      I guess I will just reply on this one. lol Glad to see your response is as long as my post 🙂

      Although I am comfortable with what has been leaked I have made it clear that I am not okay with more intrusive methods. It’s not fair to speculate on hypothetical events. I can only comment on what I know. What we have learned, from a member of a Congressional committee, is that because of this method at least one domestic terrorist attack was prevented in the past couple of years. To me this alone is worth it. If knowing who I called helps thwart attacks than I am okay with it. But I do have my limits.

      Like you, Mariam, and Jerry have pointed out there is a “slippery slope” that needs to be taken into account for. As I said in my piece it would be hypocritical of me to now change my opinion because of who is in office. I agree with your assessment that what McArdle describes is already happening.

      What did you think of Mariam’s post?

      • Kamil Zawadzki says :

        As far as the CONTENT the NSA has collected, I’m fairly sure that it’s less than what these companies had already been selling to advertisers for their data mining purposes to send out targeted ads at who they think could be a potential customer.
        I think if they do this, they should only collect the data if there is reasonable suspicion of the person being involved in criminal or terror activity, not just EVERYONE. HOWEVER, to be devil’s advocate, I do see why they might be doing this to see if, when they DO find someone suspicious, they can establish some kind of pattern to catch and prevent them even earlier.

        In regards to Mariam’s post, I think some of my above responses addressed some of what she said, but then there’s the question of online privacy or lack thereof. I mostly agree that there’s a difference between a social media site like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter ASKING you for your info and the government just secretly TAKING it without your knowledge…. But then again, is there?

        As Mariam said, nobody reads the fine print, in part because it’s longer-winded than all of us on here put together, and in part because the legal contracts always have fancy jargon that, hell, I don’t even understand.
        A few months ago when Facebook was about to change its privacy settings, it actually let users read them and comment about them – I tried and I barely understood what I was actually reading. (A jab at my ego if I ever needed one – clearly I’m not half as smart as I thought I was.)
        So IS there a difference? I don’t know that there is – either way, you don’t REALLY know how your stuff is being used.

        It used to be that Facebook was pretty much just where you went to post random status updates about class or a party and that’s that. The only network you could even attach to was your school’s, and maybe your work place if you felt like fleshing your profile out a little. Then we added geo-tagged locators, and Foursquare, etc., so everyone can know where you’re Facebooking from. Now we have the Mini-Feed syndicating every comment, photo and update from your 300+ friends, in addition to the main News-Feed that also shows you when someone Likes a page.

        As Mariam pointed out, so many people – myself, at various points even now, included – post everything about their lives online nowadays. We do so voluntarily and we need to take responsibility for ourselves here. We hand all this information to the world and anyone who may want to hack in on a silver platter.

        I mean, I’ve seen people do Foursquare check-ins AT THEIR OWN APARTMENTS. I’m just a private citizen and your friend on Facebook, so that means I don’t even NEED a secret government court or hacking skills to see your shit. But if I can literally track your movements all Saturday night because you just HAVE TO check yourself in at EVERY bar you visit on your crawl, you don’t get to complain about privacy.

        And people already face repercussions for things they post on their private social media pages and lose their jobs. (And the definition for what’s appropriate and what might get you fired differs from company to company, person to person.)
        I mean, if there’s a surveillance state afoot, we’re the ones who created it. The government is just finding ways to legally justify tapping into the spy network WE’VE built. WE feed the beast.

    • mariampera says :

      He remains my favorite politician!

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