Meanwhile Verizon Wireless spins its wheels looking to minimize brand damage

The Obama administration, which pens such promises as "Government Should be Transparent", offered nary a hint that up to 121 million Americans (on Verizon's network) could be being spied on a "daily basis" under court order by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).  The revelation of its massive, secret, and utterly non-transparent domestic snooping program leaked via a British newspaper -- The Guardian.

I. Some (D)s and (R)s Have Obama's Back on Spying Issue

In the wake of the administration's latest scandal, some U.S. Senators are defending the program, which allows the NSA to spy on law abiding citizens en masse without obtaining separate warrants.  The ranking Democrat and Republican members of the Senate Select Committee On Intelligence both praised the program as "lawful" and said the intelligence agencies had briefed Congress on their actions, which were kept secret from the citizens who voted them into office.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) comments, "As far as I know this is the exact three month renewal of what has been the case for the past seven years. This renewal is carried out by the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court under the business records section of the Patriot Act.  Therefore it is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress.  [Terrorists] will come after us if they can and the only thing that we have to deter this is good intelligence to understand that a plot has been hatched and to get there before they get to us"

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Geor.) comments, "This is nothing new.  It has proved meritorious because we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years."

Dianne Feinstein
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D; left) and Saxby Chambliss (R) both endorse the massive spying program. [Image Source: AP]

He dismisses the data collected -- such as locations of citizens and the numbers they call -- as "simply" metadata.

The Senators comments offer a hint of truth -- the program is thought to have been going on since 2006, when it first leaked in a USA Today report.  At the time it was merely a rumor -- no court order had leaked in full.  Some dismissed the report as "paranoia".  Today we know it to be accurate, thanks to more leaks.

II. Others on Both Sides are Outraged

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) have taken a far different view of the program, which they were legally unable to discuss until now under government secrecy laws.  In a 2012 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Sens. Wyden and Udall complain, "We believe that most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted [the PATRIOT Act]."

Ron Paul debates Obama
Ron Paul says that the spying was "certainly not patriotic" and was a victory for terrorists.
[Image Source: AP]

Rep. Ron Paul, a long time advocate for Constitutional freedoms, issued a statement condemning the program:

I wish I could say I was shocked at the reports the NSA is secretly spying on the private phone calls of millions of Verizon customers. However, this is a predictable result of a government that continues to erode our liberties while promising some glimmering hope of security.

The Fourth Amendment is clear; it says we should be secure in our persons, houses, papers and effects, and that all warrants must have probable cause.

I opposed and continue to oppose the Patriot Act because I believe it throws the Fourth Amendment right out the window. It is certainly not patriotic to support warrantless wiretaps, blanket ‘metadata’ collection, and spying on innocent American citizens.

Unfortunately, what is worse than the reports, is knowing that politicians of both parties will continue to defend this practice as necessary to supposedly keep us ‘safe’. We do not have to sacrifice our liberties for security. At times like this, the question must be asked, ‘if we are willing to change our way of life and our very definition of freedom while tolerating the invasive searches at our airports and now of our phone calls, have the terrorists already won?

The seizures were authorized by the Oct. 2001 USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act, and the Bush administration repurposed the NSA to its new role of spying on Americans.  Specifically the "business records" (50 U.S.C. § 1861) section of the PATRIOT Act gave the feds the ammo to seize these records from the private sector.

Experts close to Congress say that hearings on the topic will likely be held, but they are unlikely to dent the steel facade of the PATRIOT Act.  Ultimately, they expect the issue to die down as citizens grow accustomed to the new reality that they are being monitored.

III. Verizon Confirms Snooping Occurred

Another major development was Verizon Wireless -- the joint subsidiary of Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc.'s (LON:VOD) -- issuing an internal statement aimed at damage control.

In a "private" memo to employees, which of course leaked, the Verizon general counsel Randy Milch comments:

You may have seen stories in the news about a top secret order Verizon allegedly received to produce certain calling information to the U.S. Government.

We have no comment on the accuracy of The Guardian newspaper story or the documents referenced, but a few items in these stories are important. The alleged court order that The Guardian published on its website contains language that compels Verizon to respond, forbids Verizon from revealing the order’s existence and excludes from production the ‘content of any communication … or the name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer.'

But Verizon gives as close as it legally can to a confirmation, writing:

[If we] were to receive such an order, we would be required to comply.

Verizon is reportedly irked at the Obama administration for potentially damaging its business due to the report that singles it out in the spying scandal.  The nation's largest carrier is reportedly circling its wagons, pressuring administration officials to give some sort of a public show of support to the carrier.

Verizon executives
Verizon is pushing the feds to defend its image. [Image Source: Julie Jacobson/AP]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is already examining ways to bring legal actions against the government.  The EFF's Cindy Cohn comments, "Nothing in the PATRIOT Act says that millions of innocent Americans can have their phone records turned over to the government."

Sources: CNN, Ron Paul, EFF

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

Most Popular Articles

Copyright 2018 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki