Archive for Friday, May 12, 2006

A furor over phone records

Report says NSA creating database of domestic calls

May 12, 2006


— Lawmakers demanded answers from the Bush administration Thursday about a spy agency secretly collecting records of millions of ordinary Americans' phone calls to build a database of all calls within the country.

Facing mounting congressional criticism, President Bush sought to assure Americans that their civil liberties were "fiercely protected."

"The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval," said Bush, without confirming the program of the National Security Agency. "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans."

The disclosure, reported in USA Today, could complicate Bush's bid to win confirmation of former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden as CIA director. It also reignited concerns about privacy rights and touched off questions about the legal underpinnings for the government's actions and the diligence of the Republican-controlled Congress' oversight of a GOP administration.

"Everything that NSA does is lawful and very carefully done," Hayden said while making rounds at the Capitol to advocate for his confirmation. "The appropriate members of the Congress - the House and Senate - are briefed on all NSA activities."

The top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said he was shocked by the reported activities.

"It's not one party's government. It's America's government. Those entrusted with great power have a duty to answer to Americans what they are doing," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

'Flying blind'

AT&T; Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. telephone companies began turning over records of millions of their customers' phone calls to the NSA program shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, said USA Today, citing anonymous sources it said had direct knowledge of the arrangement.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel in pursuit of what had transpired.

"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," Specter said of domestic surveillance in general.

The companies said Thursday they were protecting customers' privacy but also had an obligation to assist law enforcement and government agencies in ensuring the nation's security.

"We prize the trust our customers place in us. If and when AT&T; is asked to help, we do so strictly within the law and under the most stringent conditions," the company said in a statement, echoed by the others.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said NSA was using the data to analyze calling patterns in order to detect and track suspected terrorist activity, according to information provided to him by the White House.

"Telephone customers' names, addresses and other personal information have not be handed over to NSA as part of this program," he said.

Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee's telecommunications and Internet panel, had a different view: "The NSA stands for Now Spying on Americans."

Millions of calls

Claims about the existence of the program emerged earlier this year.

In January, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy rights group, alleged in a federal lawsuit that AT&T; Inc. had given the NSA direct access to the records of the more than 300 million domestic and international calls and a huge volume of Internet data traffic. AT&T; Inc. includes the AT&T; Corp. and SBC Communications Inc.

The class action lawsuit asked a court to halt the collection of the data as an illegal invasion of citizens' privacy.

The Justice Department told the court late last month it would seek to dismiss the case under the state secrets privilege but said that effort "should not be construed as a confirmation or denial" of the alleged surveillance activities.

The foundation's suit added that its evidence substantially confirmed a Dec. 25 Los Angeles Times report that since 9-11 "NSA has had a direct hookup into the database" at AT&T; code-named "Daytona," which "keeps track of telephone numbers on both ends of calls as well as the duration of all landline calls."

On Capitol Hill, several lawmakers expressed incredulity about the program, with some Republicans questioning the rationale and several Democrats railing about a lack of congressional oversight.

"I'm not sure why it would be necessary to keep and have that kind of information," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who wanted more details.

House Democrats called for a special counsel to investigate the NSA's activities. West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is to be briefed on all NSA activities, also called current congressional oversight "woefully inadequate."

But Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., lamented leaks and said a select panel overseeing Bush's warrantless surveillance program, which was disclosed in December, has been fully informed of NSA activities.

"Calls for further oversight are unnecessary," he said.

NSA is the same spy agency that conducts the controversial eavesdropping program that had been acknowledged earlier by Bush. The president said last year that he authorized the NSA to listen, without warrants, to international phone calls involving Americans when terrorism is suspected.


Richard Heckler 12 years, 1 month ago

Bush Dips Into the 20s

President Bushââ /¢s job-approval rating has fallen to its lowest mark of his presidency, according to a new Harris Interactive poll. Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an ââ Åexcellent or pretty goodââ  job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January. Approval ratings for Congress overall also sank, and now stand at 18%.

Roughly one-quarter of U.S. adults say ââ Åthings in the country are going in the right direction,ââ  while 69% say ââ Åthings have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.ââ  This has been the trend since January, when 33% said the nation was heading in the right direction. Iraq remains a key concern for the general public, as 28% of Americans said they consider Iraq to be one of the top two most important issues the government should address, up from 23% in April. The immigration debate also prompted 16% of Americans to consider it a top issue, down from 19% last month, but still sharply higher from 4% in March.

The Harris poll comes two days after a downbeat assessement of Bush in a New York Times/CBS News poll. The Times, in analyzing the results, said ââ ÅAmericans have a bleaker view of the countryââ /¢s direction than at any time in more than two decades.ââ Â

staff04 12 years, 1 month ago

I just wonder how outraged those of you on the right would be if this happened under a Democratic Administration.

Bobberboy- by your logic, the government should also be able to perform warrantless body-cavity searches too. You seem so willing to go along with it all, so I'll let you go first...

staff04 12 years, 1 month ago

conservativeman, you've lost this argument with me before. Clinton followed the law because he obtained warrants from the FISA courts retroactively, something that the Bush program refused to do.

At any rate, I wasn't talking about wiretaps and neither is the article.

I guess there really are some people in this world that believe that the government has the unrestricted right to ANY information it chooses and there should be absolutley no oversight of how they obtain that information. Personally, I don't agree, but I'm not going to try to convince you.

GardenMomma 12 years, 1 month ago

Have you ever gone to You can do a reverse search and type in a phone number and get the name and address of the person to whom the number belongs. Try it. So yes, the phone companies are not releasing your name and address, but don't think for one minute that the NSA can't figure out your name and address from your phone number. Just FYI.

meggers 12 years, 1 month ago

I think to make sense of how this data mining can be helpful in apprehending potential terrorists, one would need to take it to the next logical step. If suspicious patterns are noted, OF COURSE the NSA is going to listen in on the actual calls. In fact, they probably already have. This has extraordinary potential for abuses of power.

Based on what I've read about it, I personally don't think the data mining is actually illegal if taken at face value, but it's naive for anyone to think that it ends there.

meggers 12 years, 1 month ago


It's more like "that guy IS a proven thief, so let's not give him keys to the vault."

The potential abuses of power I'm referring to go well beyond the potential that lies within the agencies you mention. From a privacy standpoint, citizens are at least aware of the information the IRS, SSA, and DVM keeps on them. In contrast, there is an inherent expectation of privacy when one engages in personal communications with others.

staff04 12 years, 1 month ago


good one. you really got me there...

GardenMomma 12 years, 1 month ago


I wasn't arguing that a law had been violated or an unwritten understanding broken. I was merely pointing out that the article implies that the phone companies are not releasing personal information (and they are not directly), but the information they are realeasing can lead to the gathering of personal information. So, indirectly the phone companies are releasing personal info.

meggers 12 years, 1 month ago

The telephone companies are in direct violation of FCC laws. It wouldn't surprise me if this were to result in numerous class-action lawsuits. From the FCC website:

What Information Does Your Telephone Company Collect?

Your local, long distance and wireless telephone companies collect information such as the numbers you call and when you call them, as well as the particular services you use, such as call forwarding or voice mail. Telephone companies collect this customer information, sometimes called Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI), so they can provide the services you have requested and send you bills for this service.

What Can Your Telephone Company Do With This Information?

Both a law passed by Congress and Federal Communications Commission rules impose a general duty on telephone companies to protect the confidentiality of your customer information. Telephone companies may use, disclose, or permit access to your customer information in these circumstances: (1) as required by law; (2) with your approval; and (3) in providing the service from which the customer information is derived.

And before someone claims the law required the companies to provide the NSA with copies of the records, keep in mind that the NSA actually PURCHASED the records- that is far different from issuing a subpoena, which is why Qwest was able to refuse the request (or bribe, if you will).

meggers 12 years, 1 month ago

My bad, Pilgrim. I was talking with a friend about it yesterday and he mentioned that the records were purchased from the phone companies. I should have checked it out for myself, because I'm not finding any articles relaying that.

I apologize for the error.

ben_ness 12 years, 1 month ago

conservativeman - Wrong. The NSA acquired information on both domestic calls originating in the US to other US numbers and international calls. Furthermore, the DoJ has initiated an investigation into the NSA; however, OPM, under the guise of the executive branch has refused to grant the clearance to DoJ investigators neccessary to adequately investigate the alleged wrong doings. This means the White House is directly involved in a coverup and/or the Attorney General. Considering you have also volunteered your time to put bullets in the brainstems of convicted criminals it doesn't surprise me you support Bush.

As for you, Bobberboy, your intellect wouldn't even be able to come close to competing with Staff04 on his worst day.

Alyosha 12 years, 1 month ago

Newt Gingrich on FOX news last night:

"GINGRICH: Look, I'm not - Alan, I'm not going to defend the indefensible. The Bush administration has an obligation to level with the American people."

"And I'm prepared to defend a very aggressive anti-terrorist campaign, and I'm prepared to defend the idea that the government ought to know who's making the calls, as long as that information is only used against terrorists, and as long as the Congress knows that it's underway."

"But I don't think the way they've handled this can be defended by reasonable people. It is sloppy. It is contradictory, and frankly for normal Americans, it makes no sense to listen to these three totally different explanations. "

Tyranny-supporters will need to find a new red herring: claiming that only liberals or traitors have a problem with this is simply untrue, as Gingrich's statements make clear.

Also: Quest declined to participate in this scheme because the Justice Dept. would not assure them that the FISA court had ruled that the program was legal.

xenophonschild 12 years, 1 month ago

Damn, even toby88 crushes your pathetic ass.

meggers 12 years, 1 month ago


It appears as though my friend was probably correct. NPR is reporting that the records were purchased by the government. If the media's ADD doesn't kick in, I'm guessing that interesting little detail will be more widely reported in the coming days and weeks.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 1 month ago

The following is a list of some 500 software tools, databases, data mining and processing efforts contracted for, under development or in use at the NSA and other intelligence agencies today:

Tell me again someone with all of these snooping devices 9/11/01 could not have been foiled knowing that the USA was well aware of Al qaeda.

There is a rotten fish in a barrel somewhere.

paladin 12 years, 1 month ago

How is it that there were individual photos of all 13 9/11 hijackers on the TV the afternoon of 9/11, when just that morning they were all incinerated?

paladin 12 years, 1 month ago

CNN, afternoon of 9/11, 13 passport-type photos, look into it, if you like.

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