Friday, May 12, 2006

The USA Today Story

As everyone knows by now, USA Today tells us that the "NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls"

The whole story smacks of a hit piece. It is less a story than an editorial. If you don't believe me read it yourself.

Once again, the left wants us to be more afraid of our government than the enemy. The reason, of course, that they're afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome, and couldn't care less about winning the War on Terror.

The story might not be true. We're supposed to take their word that USA Today checked out their sources, which are conveniently anonymous. Given the record of much of the msm, their word doesn't count for a whole lot.

The Bush Administration hasn't denied the story, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's true. Contrary to the way the left wants us to run this war, yes it is a good idea to keep the enemy guessing and no it is not a good idea to announce all of our operations in the newspapers.

Suppose It's True?

If true, what the NSA is doing is collecting records regarding calls that were made. The NSA has records of calls, local and long distance, they know who you called. The object is to discover patterns in order to track terrorists. They do not, however, record, the content of those communications. They were not listening in. AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth have cooperated with the NSA in this venture. Qwest declined, citing legal concerns.

For the record I hope the story is true. I certainly hope we're doing stuff like this.

Besides, it's perfectly legal.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross goes through the basics over at NRO.

Two possible laws are at issue, Gartenstein-Ross says, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

FISA first
FISA distinguishes between “electronic surveillance,” which collects the substantive content of electronic communications, and “pen registers,” which collect only the addressing information of electronic communications. Although the language of FISA is somewhat convoluted, information about what calls were being made that doesn’t involve listening in on the discussions themselves should be classified as a pen register rather than electronic surveillance under the statute.

However, the definition of “pen register” in FISA shows that the statute doesn’t regulate the government with respect to the technology at issue here. FISA states that the regulations governing pen registers do not “include any device or process used by a provider or customer of a wire or electronic communication service for billing, or recording as an incident to billing, for communications services provided by such provider.” That is precisely what was alleged in this case: The sources who spoke to USA Today said that the three participating telecommunications companies handed over information that was collected pursuant to their regular billing procedures. FISA does not implicate such action.
Ok, but what about the Fourth Amendment? Gartenstein-Ross points out that in Smith v. Maryland (1978) the Supreme Court held "that government collection of phone numbers called does not violate the Fourth Amendment. The Court reasoned that callers cannot have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the numbers they dial" From the decision
[W]e doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial. All telephone users realize that they must “convey” phone numbers to the telephone company, since it is through telephone company switching equipment that their calls are completed. All subscribers realize, moreover, that the phone company has facilities for making permanent records of the numbers they dial, for they see a list of their long-distance (toll) calls on their monthly bills. . . .

[E]ven if [a caller] did harbor some subjective expectation that the phone numbers he dialed would remain private, this expectation is not “one that society is prepared to recognize as ‘reasonable.’” . . . This Court consistently has held that a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties. . . . [W]hen [a caller] used his phone, [he] voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the telephone company and “exposed” that information to its equipment in the ordinary course of business. In so doing, [the caller] assumed the risk that the company would reveal to police the numbers he dialed.
So much for the claim that the program is illegal.

Questions for Congress

Turns out that the NSA isn't the only ones gathering detailed information about your personal life.

Congresscritters are too. Both Republicans and Democrats. Andrew McCarthy describes what they are doing
Collecting your names and addresses. Mapping out your telephone numbers and e-mail address. Making note of your interests. Paying close attention to how you spend your money.

(Congressmen are) folding these bits of information about you and millions upon millions of your fellow Americans, and—you’d better be sitting down for this part—entering it into searchable databases.

Then, worse yet, (Congressmen are) using sophisticated computer programs to develop targeted strategies about how to deal with you in every aspect of your personal life.
"Modern American politics", McCarthy points out, "requires a fair amount of data mining."

While we're discussing Congress, have you noticed the outrage over how Senator Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) aides gathered private credit information about the GOP candidate for governor in Maryland, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele? About the calls for to investigate Schumer, or for him to resign? Neither had I.

History and More History

Abraham Lincoln suspended habius corpus during The Civil War. Easy to say now that it wasn't right, but he had a war to fight, one that makes our WOT look like childs play.

Are you familiar with FDR's domestic survelience program during World War II? Or that he gave what ammounted to secret orders to the US Navy to fight an undeclared war on German U-Boats well before Pearl Harbor?

It's easy to say now that his internment of Japanese-Americans was unjust, but the invaluable Michelle Malkin showed how it was hardly unwise.

Lastly, Mark Levin points out that the NSA program isn't nearly as intrusive as ECHELON, which has been in place for years, and no one in Congress complains about it.

The bottom line is that that their is nothing illegal or wrong with the alleged NSA data mining operation.