Thursday, May 11, 2006

NSA Domestic Surveillance, Part 2

USA Today is reporting that "the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth." The NSA is not actively listening to these calls, but rather is "using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity." According to an anonymous source cited in the article, the NSA's goal is to "create a database of every call ever made." As with the domestic eavesdropping program, this database has been collected without warrants. However, where the eavesdropping program focused on communications involving at least one foreign-based communicant, the database deals with calls originating and terminating entirely within the United States. According to the article, "customer's names, street addresses, and other personal information are not being handed over as part of the NSA's domestic program. But, the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information."

I've talked a lot in past posts about questions of international justice, arguing that procedural justice need not be the primary concern. However, that is not the case here. This is a domestic issue, and in domestic politics, procedural justice is the primary concern. As I have argued, the defense that the government is, as a result of the country being at war with terror, not obliged to follow the existing laws and rules is not a sustainable argument. And this seems to be a case in point example of why we, in a domestic system, place procedural justice at the top of the "justice hierarchy." Telecommunications companies are, normally, forbidden from divulging such information without warrants, and it is likely that Bush relied on the same logic for obtaining the information as with the first NSA surveillance program. If that is the case, then this database, as with the eavesdropping program, is illegal.

In defense of the database, Senator Jon Cornyn (R-TX) commented that "to suggest that there's some sort of coverup is not correct, and the motivation of those who would suggest otherwise is obvious." But this is exactly the point. The government is wielding power in secret, with apparently little to no oversight from the legislative branch. And while I do not doubt the motives of those in charge, even the best of motives can go astray. Laws once broken are difficult to fix, and power once given is nigh impossible to take away. And, perhaps most importantly, any time the government takes more power for itself and demands the public trust, I get worried. Very worried.

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