The surveillance society that Americans chose to live in


Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

So everyone is having a freak-out today over Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman’s big scoop in The Guardian on the secret court order compelling Verizon to turn over to the NSA basically all of its call record data (as do other communications networks).  NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily.

I don't know what everyone is so excited about. Congress overwhelmingly approved the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, and Americans terrified of terrorist attacks after 9-11 overwhelmingly approved surrendering their liberty for a false sense of security. Have you all forgotten that?

I fought the USA Patriot Act, and I have fought every extension of the Act — which the American people and Congress also overwhelmingly supported. You all got what you wanted. There is no surprise here. The government has been doing exactly what you asked for since 2001.

As the Senate Intelligence Committee co-chairs said today, ‘It’s Called Protecting America’: Senators Defend NSA On Phone Records:

The top two senators on the Intelligence Committee on Thursday
defended the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone
records after it was reported in The Guardian.

“It is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress,” Senate Intelligence
Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told reporters at an impromptu news
conference in the Capitol. “This is just meta data. There is no content
involved. In other words, no content of a communication. … The records
can only be accessed under heightened standards.”

“I read intelligence carefully. And I know that people are trying
to get to us,” Feinstein said. “This is the reason we keep TSA doing
what it’s doing. This the reason the FBI now has 10,000 people doing
intelligence on counter-terrorism. This is the reason for the national
counter-terrorism center that’s been set up in the time we’ve been

“And it’s to ferret this out before it happens,” she said. “It’s called protecting America.”

Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) backed up
Feinstein, saying, “This is nothing particularly new. This has been
going on for seven years under the auspices of the FISA authority, and
every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this.”

Think Progress reminds us of the history of this spy program. What You Should Know About The Government’s Massive Domestic Surveillance Program:

This is the first public confirmation that widespread surveillance of
Americans, initiated under President George W. Bush in the aftermath of
the World Trade Center attacks, has continued under the Obama
administration. The program captures phone numbers and other
information, but not the content of the conversations.

Warrantless surveillance began shortly after the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Bush administration began [an illegal] secret surveillance program in 2001,
asking AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to turn over communications
records to the National Security Agency (NSA). The agency’s goal was “to
create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders, the USA Today reported in 2006.

Program fell under court supervision in 2007.
Following public uproar, the administration placed the program under the
surveillance of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In
2008, Congress expanded the Act to allow both foreign and domestic
surveillance “as long as the intent is to gather foreign intelligence.” The measure also provided “retroactive immunity to the telecom companies that assisted the Bush administration.”

Congress extended the law through 2017. In December
of 2012, Congress voted to reauthorize The FISA Amendments Act until
2017. The Act “allows federal agencies to eavesdrop on communications
and review email” with a warrant from the secret FISA court. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a critic of the program, offered an amendment during floor debate that would have required the NSA disclose an estimate
of how often information on Americans was collected and require
authorities to obtain a warrant if they wish to search for private
information in the NSA databases. In a letter to Attorney General Eric
Holder, Wyden, along with Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), wrote, “We believe
most Americans would be stunned
to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have
interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act.” Wyden and Udall also noted
that the administration promised August 2009 to establish “a regular
process for reviewing, redacting and releasing significant opinions” of
the court, though “not a single redacted opinion has been released.”

What the Verizon order says. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered Verizon — which has 121 million customers
— to turn over metadata “on an ongoing daily basis” for a three-month
period between April 25, 2013 and July 19, 2013. The order does not
require Verizon to turn over the content of the calls, but it must share
information about the numbers dialed, received and length of call.

What civil libertarians say. The American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the administration’s order, noting
that “From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be
any more alarming.” “It’s a program in which some untold number of
innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of
government agents,” Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, said in a statement.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also criticized the order. “This bulk data
collection is being done under interpretations of the law that have been
kept secret from the public,” he said. “Significant FISA court opinions
that determine the scope of our laws should be declassified. Can the
FBI or the NSA really claim that they need data scooped up on tens of
millions of Americans?”

What the Patriot Act says. The order falls under
Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to make
broad demands on telephone carriers for information about calls. Under
the law, the government isn’t required to show probable cause, but
rather, “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that the tangible
things sought are “relevant to an authorized investigation . . . to
obtain foreign intelligence information. . . or to protect against
international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” An
expert told the Washington Post that the order “appears to be a routine renewal
of a similar order first issued by the same court in 2006.” The order
is apparently “reissued routinely every 90 days and that it is not
related to any particular investigation by the FBI or any other agency.”

How the government is responding. The White House
responded to the Guardian story by insisting that the data is a
“critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the
United States.” “It allows counter terrorism personnel to discover
whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other
persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people
located inside the United States,” an official said. Officials say they
will investigate the source of the leak to the Guardian.

If you are genuinely upset about living in a surveillance society, one that Americans chose to live in, then your only course of action is to repeal the USA PATRIOT Act and related FISA legislation. Go ahead and propose this, and see what kind of response you get.