I do not have time to write a full piece on the revelations about the Obama Administration’s continuation* – and indeed, apparent expansion – of the Bush Administration’s policy of obtaining blanket phone records (“metadata”) on virtually every phone call made through Verizon (and presumably all of the other telecoms; at least Verizon seems to have had the decency to require a court order). Regardless of whether our increasingly spineless-on-civil-liberties-issues courts might deem such acts to be constitutional, this kind of blanket collection of private communications metadata is beyond outrageous. Almost as outrageous, however, is the Administration’s indefensible justification for the policy:
An administration official defended the collection of data as a “critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States.”
“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 added.
Notice that the justification is premised on discovering the contacts of “known or suspected terrorists,” which is consistent with the traditional basis for the collection of such data. Notice also that this justification has absolutely nothing to do with what makes this policy so incredibly outrageous – it’s long been widely accepted (regardless of whether I might agree with that acceptance) that the government can obtain this type of metadata with respect to particular suspects or even contacts of suspects. What has never been accepted is the notion that such data may be obtained indiscriminately for virtually every single American.
Comparisons to Orwell’s Big Brother, unfortunately, are all too appropriate.
*And we all owe an extraordinary debt of gratitude to Glenn Greenwald for making these revelations public.