It's All A (phone) Numbers Game Data Mining Through Your Phone Calls Drills Into Your Privacy Rights

Posted: May 17, 2006

IT'S 10 O'CLOCK - do you know where your phone records are? According to a recent report confirmed by the president, records of every single phone call you've made have been turned over to the government's National Security Administration.

Months ago, when it was leaked that the NSA was tapping into phone conversations without a warrant, the president assured the nation that the program was limited to a very small number of people - those who made international calls and were suspected of terrorist activity. Now we know the president wasn't completely forthcoming.

What other activities has the NSA undertaken, or does it want to begin? Is it making the case that it has the right to go through all of your credit-card transactions? Medical records? Movie rentals? It is entirely possible, given that the administration demanded that a section be included in the USA Patriot Act that would allow the government to know what books you have checked out of the library.

Unfortunately for us, our elected representatives in Washington have been negligent in the most important of their duties - acting as an agent of checks and balances to ensure that this administration, or any future administration, always works within the bounds of the law and our Constitution. After nearly five years since the terrorist attacks, the political fears that paralyzed most politicians from questioning the administration on the tactics it used in the war on terror finally may be subsiding.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who had to cut a few deals with the White House to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has broken ranks to question the growing and unchecked powers of the NSA.

Specter has suggested that he may call the heads of the telephone companies who are cooperating with the NSA to testify before his committee, while at the same time expressing doubt about the constitutionality of the entire program.

"We're really flying blind on the subject and that's not a good way to approach the Fourth Amendment and the constitutional issues involving privacy," he said.

This is a good first step, and others should join Specter. More must be done, however. The NSA informed the Justice Department that it does not have sufficient security clearance to investigate the NSA's wiretapping program.

As a result, the Justice Department backed down, essentially allowing the NSA to determine when it should be investigated.

Talk about the inmates running the asylum. We would like to see Specter address this issue as well.

This should not be a partisan issue, and kudos to Specter for leading the way to ensure that it will not fall victim to partisan rancor. Everyone in Congress should line up to join him. It is not only the right thing to do, but it is also his job. *

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