So says the head of the NSA
(NY Times) The director of the National Security Agency told Congress on Wednesday that “dozens” of terrorism threats had been halted by the agency’s huge database of the logs of nearly every domestic phone call made by Americans, while a senator briefed on the program disclosed that the telephone records are destroyed after five years.
The director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who heads both the N.S.A. and United States Cyber Command, which runs the military’s offensive and defensive use of cyberweapons, told skeptical members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that his agency was doing exactly what Congress authorized after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
General Alexander said he welcomed debate over the legal justification for the program because “what we’re doing to protect American citizens here is the right thing.” He said the agency “takes great pride in protecting this nation and our civil liberties and privacy” under the oversight of Congress and the courts.
Citizens do not want “debate”, because debate rarely gets anywhere in stopping the massive intrusions of our privacy by Government (or virtually anything else): how’s that debate regarding “enhanced pat-downs” at airports working? The fact is that these programs should be targeted towards those who would look to harm the United States, not every citizen.
As a sidebar, I couldn’t care less if the NSA targets China, European countries, and others. That’s what they should be doing. And calls from certain nations, those that support terrorism or are know to have lots of terrorist groups, to the United States should be targeted. But, the NSA programs grew out of typical government response, where instead of targeting specifics, they go after everyone. Remember, profiling was stopped cold in the wake of 9/11. Grandma Wendy from Wichita had to be treated the same as Mohammed reciting Allahu Akbar.
Gallup has finally come out with their poll on the issue
More Americans disapprove (53%) than approve (37%) of the federal government agency program that as part of its efforts to investigate terrorism obtained records from U.S. telephone and Internet companies to “compile telephone call logs and Internet communications.”
Interestingly, 49% of Democrats approve while 40% disapprove. Replace the name Obama with Bush, McCain, or Romney, and I wonder what those numbers would be? But this is the 3rd out of 4 polls saying Americans are against this program the way it is run. CBS had it as 58-38 against. Rasmussen had it 59-26 among likely voters. The Washington Post-Pew poll had it 56-41 in favor of the program, but, as I pointed out yesterday, 50% + of the survey respondents had followed the NSA programs news coverage “not too closely/not closely at all.” So why should their opinions matter if they’re clueless?
Analysts can look at the domestic calling data only if there is a reason to suspect it is “actually related to Al Qaeda or to Iran,” Feinstein said, adding: “The vast majority of the records in the database are never accessed and are deleted after a period of five years. To look at or use the content of a call, a court warrant must be obtained.”
The problem here is that the American People have no assurances that the use of that data will be limited. Who would have thought that the IRS would target Conservative groups? Who would have thought that Romney donors would be targeted by the IRS? Who would have thought that the POTUS and his people would intentionally target private citizens who disagree with him with barbed criticism, a violation of the spirit of the 1st Amendment? Who would have thought that the Attorney General would say that, while hypothetical, it is legal to launch a drone strike on a US citizen on US soil? Who would have thought that the Obama admin and HHS would violate the 1st Amendment rights of religious organizations with Obamacare regulations?
What if they decide to use this data for other purposes? What assurances do we have that the usage will stay focused on terrorists and nations like Iran? We have none. What if they are used to track Conservative groups? What then, Liberals? What if a Republican president uses them to track your groups, Liberals? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. There needs to be an open posting of exactly how this data can be used, and enforced in law. Stopping terrorist attacks is great, but not at the loss of privacy by citizens who aren’t involved in the least.