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I'll keep this short; the news speaks for itself. This morning, USA Today reported that the NSA has been building a database of American phone calls. So far, they've collected information about tens of millions of US citizens. Their ultimate aim?

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

Every. Single. Call. Did you pick up the cell to wish your friend good luck before a final? The government has a record of that. Call your parents asking for advice? The NSA knows. Phone your girlfriend to tell her good night? General Hayden is well aware.

The Patriot Act was nothing compared to this; who cares if a few library records are compromised? Even the NSA wiretapping scandal pales in comparison; after all, very few people actually had their phoned tapped. But today, we know that the government is keeping records on the private conversations of every single American. Me, you, your parents, my friends-- the government has a list of every phone call they've made for the past five years. The largest database ever created is being used to collect private information from you, your friends, and your neighbors.

This is the end. The Patriot Act and NSA wiretapping were complicated, and the Republicans managed to squeek by thanks to their complexity. They painted Democrats as against all wiretapping, not just warantless wiretapping, and they made it seem as if the courts were an impediment to stopping terrorists. They were wrong, of course, but they managed to squirm out of facing the music. This is utterly inexcusable; spying on every single American is impossible to defend. Spying on every single Russian was the job of the KGB; spying on every single person was the job of Orwell's Big Brother. We live in the land of freedom, liberty, and democracy. Here in America, there is simply no excuse.


Pam said...

Agreed. What really disturbs me is that the Post has a poll today that says 63% of Americans disagree and believe that this is acceptable government behavior. Sometimes I just don't understand -- what are these people thinking? The government has no business keeping tabs on people; whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty"?

OrSkolnik said...

There are some pretty major methodological concerns with that poll:

1. It was done overnight, which tends to make things less accurate.
2. Up until that question, the entire poll is framed in terms of privacy vs. fighting terrorism. It's clearly not a choice-- i.e., this program is completely innefective and wasteful while being un-American and taking away your privacy-- but when you're asked if you support privacy or fighting the terrorists, the choice is pretty clear.
3. The actual question which gives the 63% result was 45 questions into the poll. Also, literally half of this question is a disclaimer about how the NSA isn't actually listening to the calls. Since the rest of the poll is framed in terms of terrorism-or-privacy, by the time you reach this question, it seems obvius that this isn't a huge deal.

So the methodology is a little suspect at best. Either way, it's very possible that a majority-- and even 63%-- support this, from what they know right now. But that won't last. There's huge bipartisan outcry over this, and once it's framed as what it actually is-- the government spying on *every single American*--
I'm pretty sure there will be a backlash fairly quickly.

Jenna L said...

Okay... this is going to be a pretty worthless comment, but so be it. I was on my way to the blog to write my very first post about the dastardly NSA and its unwarrantable (haha) spying into the lives of American citizens. Too bad Or beat me to it. All I can say-- I agree.

And thanks for pointing out the problems with the poll's methodology. I was going to mention that too-- it's not something that's getting any mainstream press, and its nature was dubious at best. I don't trust that that 63% heard anything more than "Do you love America or Al Queda?" and I'm frankly surprised the numbers didn't look even worse.

OrSkolnik said...

Here's something to support the flawed methodology thesis Jenna and I have been talking about:


Basically, they framed the questions in terms of is this a necessary tool or does it go too far. The results: only 41% are okay with the database, while 53% are say it goes too far. Now, I'm sure some Republicans will argue that the security vs privacy frame is a more accurate measure, but for obvious reasons I think that's bull. Most Americans (myself included) believe the government has a mandate to secure the nation; the question is, when does the government go too far in enforcing that mandate at the expense of everything else?