photo: The U.S. Military Academy at West Point
The Washington Post reports that the ranking minority member of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence seems not too concerned about the United States government collecting information about our phone conversations:
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said, “This is nothing particularly new.... Every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this.”
He added: “It is simply what we call metadata that is never utilized by any government agency” unless an agency goes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges for further review of the information.
Using section 215 of the PATRIOT Act federal government agencies can require companies to hand over this and other personal information without the government establishing reasonable grounds, much less the constitutionally required probably cause, that the people whose information is sought are engaged in criminal activity.
When section 215 came up for re-authorization in 2011, Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, also members of the Senate Intelligence Committee with access to classified briefings on the US government's use and interpretation of section 215 powers, warned that Americans would be concerned about the powers being exercised and promoted unsuccessful efforts to limit the exercise of these powers. Declan McCullagh detailed the senators' concerns and legislative efforts.
Further, Sen. Chambliss's suggestion that the FISA court will protect us from government snooping provides little comfort. That court ordered Verizon to hand over millions of individuals' personal phone records. Indeed, the US Department of Justice reported to Congress that in 2012 the FISA court did not deny any of 1,789 applications for monitoring electronic communications.
National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney reminds us in the Washington Times that US government snooping on the "metadata" and content of vast amounts of email and phone calls has been ongoing for over a decade. For more explanation from Binney about the secret US government spying on our private lives check out James Bamford's investigative report from last year in Wired that also goes into the details of the multi-year, billions-upon-billions of dollars build-up of facilities, technology, and manpower to spy on our activities on an unprecedented scale. The US government's snooping has reached the point that Binney gives the following warning in Bamford's article:
Sitting in a restaurant not far from NSA headquarters, the place where he spent nearly 40 years of his life, Binney held his thumb and forefinger close together. “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” he says.