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Big Brother: NSA Phone Records

Late last night we learned that Obama's National Security Agency has been collecting telephones records for millions of Verizon customers within the US.

The Guardian, a UK publication, obtained a copy of the top secret order, which was issued in April of this year. According to the Guardian, the order “requires Verizon on an 'ongoing, daily basis' to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.” What this means is that the Obama administration is collecting data on innocent, law-abiding Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. The order was issued on April 25th and the unlimited authority to collect data is set to expire on July 19th. While the content of phone calls supposedly is not being monitored, the Guardian reports that “the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls.” The Guardian explains, “The information is classed as 'metadata,' or transactional information, rather than communications, and so does not require individual warrants to access.” At this point we don't yet know if Verizon is the only company handing over such information to the government.

The Obama administration has already tried to defend itself. An unnamed administration official says that the information is "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States." The official went on to add: "It allows counter terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.” The official did clarify that the government is not listening to the content of anyone's calls, as if that is supposed to make us feel better. So this administration is yet again using the “national defense” argument. As Michelle Malkin accurately pointed out this morning, I thought that the Obama administration declared that the War on Terror was over? If that's the case, then why the need for this broad, secret spying on Americans?

Now I recognize that the NSA’s secret domestic surveillance program was established under the Bush administration as a response to 9/11. But Michelle Malkin has a piece today pointing to the crucial differences between Bush and Obama's NSA phone surveillance programs. The bottom line is that the broad nature of Obama's order is astounding and it is the first time we have learned that this administration is engaged in the very practices that enraged liberals throughout the Bush administration. For a man who campaigned against warrentless wiretaps, against ETI, and for the closing of Guantanamo Bay, the hypocrisy sure does seem apparent. Only until recently did Obama re-assert his efforts to close Gitmo, after being cornered on the issue. Obama himself reauthorized the Patriot Act in 2011, with controversial surveillance provisions still in place. But this is also the president who campaigned adamantly against waterboarding terrorists but supports using drone strikes to simply kill them! This is a man who lambasted Bush for warrentless wiretapping specifically related to terrorist activity, yet justifies a hugely broad collection of data on millions of law-abiding Americans.

By late this morning, members of the Senate seemed to be downplaying the story as nothing particularly new. They say this court order is something that is renewed every three months. In fact according to Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, "This has been going on for 7 years under the auspices of the FISA authority." Does that make you feel any better? Does that make it acceptable?

Earlier in the week we learned that Obama administration officials use secret email addresses to shield their information from the public. Unfortunately the same opportunity for privacy is not afforded to us mere mortals, us average Americans. As Drudge pointed out today, “it’s no small irony that '1984' was published 64 years ago today.”