The government's Verizon phone search stirs fears

The Obama administration is creating yet more controversy with unprecedented records snooping.

By Jonathan Berr Jun 6, 2013 11:57AM
A pedestrian talks on a cellular phone as she walks by a Verizon Wireless store on April 19, 2012 in New York City (© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)The news that a federal court ordered Verizon (VZ) to hand over data on millions of phone calls to the National Security Agency that aren't tied to anyone in particular is simply astonishing.

As the Guardian explains it, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court  approved the order on April 25. The three-month cyber dragnet, which expires on July 19, may be the most serious breach of civil liberties in years. It remains unclear what the government is trying to find out.

"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," the newspaper says.

Officials in the Obama administration are downplaying the Orwellian nature of the data collection, telling the Washington Post that the order focuses on "meta data," such as the length of a call and the number where it originated. Unlike with the so-called warrantless wiretaps in the George W. Bush administration, the government can't listen in on phone calls. Members of Congress also were briefed on the order.

Still, that's of little comfort.

The court order allows the government to go on a fishing expedition by searching through the data of millions of innocent customers. People can argue that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. But how can people know that their activities aren't arousing suspicion, given the sweeping nature of the court's order?

Moreover, if Verizon was required to disclose such a huge volume of customer data, it seems likely that rival carriers such as AT&T (T) and Sprint (S) would get such orders also, if they haven't already. Not surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union wants the surveillance to end immediately.
"From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming," Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director, said in a press release.

That's an understatement.

Coupled with the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service and its overzealous pursuit of government leakers, the Obama administration's stance on civil liberties is proving to be disappointing even to its ardent supporters. 

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Jun 6, 2013 2:00PM
If you have not been pissed off for the past 50 years you have not been paying attention.  It's officially gone overboard.  I just read an article in my newspaper today that says more than 3 out of 4 people living today are criminals in some way shape or form.  We can go as low as say, not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign.  So if that's the case I'm going to say it's closer 9 out of 10.  Rules, laws, and regulations are being passed by our own government on a daily basis to make us all criminals and practically impossible to persue our constitutional right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I'm sorry people but this has been happening long before Obama and it will continue under any successive administration.  Example: A crazy lunatic walks into a school and kills 20 people, what should be done about him?  Well nothing because he is dead so let's punish everyone else.  Take everyone's guns.  Example 2:  A drunk plows into a family  of four and kills them, after downing a bottle of whisky, what should be done about him, well he will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law right, that seems reasonable enough but no, let's punish everyone else and throw anyone in jail who has a couple of beers with friends to watch a sporting event but just so happens to run into one of those absolutely unconstitutional check points.  Of course he is not drunk but if you drink a beer, guess what, your breath smells like one too.  Now I have to pay for my rights to not be taken away.  Example 3:  Mexican cartel smuggles 30 lbs of marijuana across the border and kills two officers while evading capture, what should we do, well he killed two officers and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law right?  No, marijuana is bad and should be fully criminalized.  Yes we can put you in jail for a dime bag.  My point is, no amount of laws or regulations are going to stop bad people from doing bad things and they should be punished accordingly.  What I have a problem with is having my right to be responsible for myself taken away because of a few bad eggs.  Let me tell you something, their is always going to be a couple bad eggs.
Jun 6, 2013 2:30PM
Let's face it. Those of us who voted for Obama and expected "hope and change" were bamboozled. Obama is a fraud...deceitful, manipulative, and power hungry. Eight years of Bush followed by 8 years of Obama has brought this country to it's knees. We won't soon recover, no matter who occupies the Oval Office in 2017. The Constitution has been shredded. "America" as an idea, as an exception, as a "beacon of freedom" is no more. Kaput. We're no better than Russia, China, or any other oppressive place. 
Jun 6, 2013 1:51PM

This administration will never be for the people, by the is undermining what little faith anyone had in government.  Time to oust the entire lot and start over.  The constitution never envisioned "this" much government.  The citizens of the country are the ones who are to be the decision makers, not some wealthy person who can buy his way in.  We need to return to a simpler and more manageable government that is of the people.


Jun 6, 2013 1:15PM
Wouldn't a terrorist just use a burn phone, same as a drug dealer ?
Jun 6, 2013 5:01PM
I remember when Obama was campaigning against this very thing!  Hahahahahahaha!  The liberals will try and blame Bush, but this goes way....way beyond what Bush did.  This is so funny!  Slowly but surly, your privacy rights are being violated, and no one seems to care.
Jun 6, 2013 1:04PM
That's another thing that under reported about Obama, he's actually a Republican in many ways. He serves way too many masters. He hides behind, Compromise.
Jun 6, 2013 10:02PM
Obama is a Socialist - We voted him in so we now have to deal with it.
Jun 6, 2013 5:49PM
People are right to state how Obama was first against it and now he's not against. However that hardly means Bush and Company didn't do the same or worse. Fact is, the very people in Congress that the hypocritical posters voted for, Support what Obama signed and what they themselves Passed via a Bill. I mean the Heritage Foundation sends out a guy on National TV, supporting this but the Right just refuses to admit just how deep their side is in it. That their side created this. Democrats should be up in Arms, not Republicans. Obama sold out his own to support what most Republicans in Congress support fully.

Anytime anyone uses a key term regardless of whether it's phone, internet, or whatever, the Government uses computers to determine potential red FLAGS. I don't like the Government thinking they know why people say what they say. Only a idiot would announce they are going to Rob the Bank in time to prevent them from, Robbing the BANK. It's a choice between letting go too many freedoms when we have already given up on getting real wages and benefits. How long before we are no better off than slave labor overseas?

Jun 7, 2013 9:22AM
Obama is the best Friend a Republican could ever ask for. He promised to let the Bush Tax Cuts expire, he lied.
Jun 7, 2013 2:26PM
I supported Bush even though I didn't entirely agree with everything he did but this data mining began under his watch from what I have read.  Both Bush and Obama need to be held accountable on this along with anyone else who knew about it.  This violates the Constitution so much that our founding fathers are weeping for the death of the country that they bled and died to create.
Jun 7, 2013 2:17PM

you are all being controlled, programed and herded. numerous admonisions on these boards have warned you. i will try again. WAKE UP MORONS!!!

Jun 6, 2013 2:39PM
How about it's High time we stopped living with Alice in Wonderland about people past and present. The Founders weren't a bunch of Choir Boys and neither are Obama and Bush. It never was what most claimed it to be and likely never will be.
Jun 6, 2013 12:45PM
Hey dude, where were you doing the Bush Years? Obama is only doing what Bush and Company started and continued until they left office. When Bush was doing it, posters would tell me what's the problem, if you aren't doing anything wrong, don't whine about the Government. Now those same folks are pulling their classic Double Standards Act. Fact is, Republican should have been mad when Bush did it and Democrats should be just as mad that Obama has continued it.

I have noticed a trend with this guy and his articles. He's total clueless about the history of snooping and when this all actually started. I have been complaining about this long before Obama took office. Now this guy just now get's it? Obama is wrong for doing it and so was the guy who actually created this mess, laying the foundation for doing it, Bush and Company.

Jun 6, 2013 1:01PM
196 Republicans along with 54 Democrats in the House voted to extend the provisions of the Patriot Act in 2011. 122 Democrats voted against it along with 31 Republicans. A combination of 29 didn't vote.

41 Republicans along with 30 Democrats in the Senate voted to extend the provisions of that same Bill. 18 Democrats voted No with 4 Republicans doing the same.

Obama signed the Bill, loving and agreeing with it just as Bush and Company did. So get your facts straight about this before you write another article.

Jun 6, 2013 2:36PM
The Heritage Foundation, Seven Bucci just came out in strong defense of this style of snooping on National Cable TV. Russ Limbaugh is a member of this Conservative think-tank. Steven Bucci is the Director for  the foundations study of foreign policy. Key Republicans support this as shown by the House and Senate vote. Yet all we will hear from the Right sheep, it was all about Obama. Really? And Rush has the nerve to call the Left and everyone else, low information voters.
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