"Can you hear me now?"
If you're using a Verizon telephone, then the Obama administration can hear you loud and clear. At this very moment, the National Security Agency is collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. Verizon customers. In the wake of increased scrutiny for the administration's crackdowns on whistleblowers and assaults on press freedoms, it has been revealed that a top secret court order is forcing Verizon to surrender information on all calls in its system on an "ongoing, daily basis" to the NSA.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) granted the FBI the unlimited authority to seize private information on April 25 for a three-month period ending on July 19, revealing for the first time how widespread domestic surveillance of U.S. civilians is under President Obama. The order allows the government to obtain the numbers of both parties on a call, location data, call duration, time stamps, and other unique identifiers. The contents of your phone conversation are not covered in the order.
During the administration of George W. Bush, officials had informed reporters that the NSA was performing large-scale collection of calls records data as part of its efforts in the War on Terror. This is the first time that official documents have revealed President Obama continuing this practice en masse. There is zero targeting in this widespread order. All U.S. customers of Verizon are able to be snooped on, regardless of any suspicion of wrongdoing.
Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Or.) have been warning for some time about the widespread nature of the Obama's administration domestic surveillance activities. The two senators have previously sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder criticizing the executive branch's secret interpretations of certain sections of the PATRIOT Act. They argued that the Justice Department has been deliberately misleading the American public on the nature of the law in order to conceal its incredibly intrusive powers.
For over a decade, the federal government has abused portions of the PATRIOT Act in the name of national security. From intimidating the press to expanding Bush-era domestic surveillance powers, President Obama has revealed himself to be no greater friend to privacy rights and civil liberties than his predecessor. It is time for Congress to rein in the executive branch and throw the overreaching PATRIOT Act, passed in a moment of fear and panic rather than through thought and contemplation, back onto the drawing board.
If the government wants to hear what Americans are saying, let it hear this: A decade of unmitigated privacy intrusions is enough. It's time to stop. Congress must act.