The U.S. government has been looking and often gathering and collecting data on almost every phone call, website visited, and credit card transaction we make. In case you want to get caught up one this issue which hit the news world hard yesterday, this article on the National Security Agency (NSA) program called Prism is a good quick start. Here's a juicy quote of a quote from the article:
The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.
The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.
While it's hard to feel happy about this, could it be necessary to prevent another 9/11? If it did prevent something like a nuclear device being detonated in Chicago killing a million people, would it be worth it? Does this revelation give the bad guys notice that they need a new way to stay in touch?
Obviously, a government needs some secrecy, but how much is too much?
From a Wall Street Journal article:
The critics nonetheless say the NSA program is a violation of privacy, or illegal, or unconstitutional, or all of the above. But nobody's civil liberties are violated by tech companies or banks that constantly run the same kinds of data analysis. We bow to no one in our desire to limit government power, but data-mining is less intrusive on individuals than routine airport security. The data sweep is worth it if it prevents terror attacks that would lead politicians to endorse far greater harm to civil liberties. (source)
Sen. McCarthy singled out individuals and accused them of treason in public. This doesn't appear to be similar to McCarthyism on any level.
Well, I've been all around the US and have lived extensively in both Oregon and Ohio and have never run into "guilt by association" of people who know atheists. Also, the courts pretty consistently have protected the rights of atheists under the same Freedom of Religion that protects religious people.
I have no idea where your paranoia comes from. There may be countries where our rights would be more protected, but surely in most countries our rights would be worse off.
Apparently, according to government officials (including Obama) the telephone data is simply warehoused and only accessed when a case emerges where it might be useful. They say no one and not computer software is poring over the content. In fact, if I understand correctly, the content is lost. All that's collected is "metadata" like location, date, time, and duration, as well as the phone numbers on both ends of the calls of course.
However, that is not the government's only data collection program.
I just finished up a lengthy article on Wired.com about this very thing. Apparently, the NSA has tapped into the hard lines of the internet around the US, embedded themselves in the servers of almost all major internet businesses, and in the servers of US telcoms. On top of it, they are recording almost everything they can. They aren't viewing the data as it comes so technically no one is lying about people knowing what people are talking about, but they are keeping them to possibly view later. They can then comb through it for certain search terms and decrypt files as want with a super computer in Oak Ridge, TN built specifically for the purpose. All of this is mind-bogglingly unethical and no one in charge gives a damn. It's interesting that you linked this right below my reply about Zimbardo and his book, because the same slippery-slope has led to this. They ask for a little bit more and a little bit more until the NSA is spying on all Americans. This program isn't just to find terrorists. It's at the point where it can capture and decrypt almost any data sent through the US's lines from other countries' state secrets to industrial secrets.
An excerpt from the article:
He explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US. The network of intercept stations goes far beyond the single room in an AT&T building in San Francisco exposed by a whistle-blower in 2006. “I think there’s 10 to 20 of them,” Binney says. “That’s not just San Francisco; they have them in the middle of the country and also on the East Coast.”
The eavesdropping on Americans doesn’t stop at the telecom switches. To capture satellite communications in and out of the US, the agency also monitors AT&T’s powerful earth stations, satellite receivers in locations that include Roaring Creek and Salt Creek. Tucked away on a back road in rural Catawissa, Pennsylvania, Roaring Creek’s three 105-foot dishes handle much of the country’s communications to and from Europe and the Middle East. And on an isolated stretch of land in remote Arbuckle, California, three similar dishes at the company’s Salt Creek station service the Pacific Rim and Asia.
Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far larger than has been publicly disclosed and included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts. The haul only grew from there. According to Binney—who has maintained close contact with agency employees until a few years ago—the taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct “deep packet inspection,” examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.
I am OK with the program as is, connectivity only, no content without a court order. It must be continuously scrutinized. Once again we can thank religion for loss of freedom.
I don't think they can even examine the metadata without a court order. The purpose of the program is just to preserve potential evidence. I'm OK with that, too.
But are they looking at it only with court approval or are they looking at it regardless? It's all so secret we can't even tell and we have no way to tell. The system in place has created a situation where I think the abuse of power is not just likely, but inevitable.
Even if they did look at it, remember it's not content. They don't know what was said, but only whose phone talked to whose phone, time and date and duration of the call. Also, the data isn't of Americans, it's of foreign nationals. If they talk to an American, then a warrant from the FISA court is necessary to take it further.
I think the problem here could be reciprocity. The US government could be tuning in to UK exchanges and the UK government could be tuning in to US exchanges. Then it would simply be a matter of exchanging the findings, neatly circumventing any domestic regulations in place for the citizens/subjects in the particular government's jurisdiction.
Still, it's just metadata, not "Bob, I think I may have left my cell phone over at your place while we were smoking crack last night."
I can only imagine that listening or reading actual communications, would lead to insanity at a rate of knots.
Still, I like the idea of making a call from a phone that's actually over at Bob's.
(yeah, yeah, I know - landline. But it was funny)