by Clarence Page
When is a scandal not really a scandal?
Many are shocked to hear that the government, in its pursuit of terrorists as relentlessly as Wile E. Coyote chases the Road Runner, is massively snooping into our phone records and popular social networks without search warrants.
But is anybody really surprised to hear that the
Revelations that the NSA is conducting massive surveillance of cellphone calls and Internet traffic have divided the country into two camps, those who are outraged that the government has been gathering phone records and those who are greatly relieved.
Oh, yes, there's a third group that doesn't know what to think because they don't know the difference between a wiretap and "metadata collection," your new vocabulary words for the day, children.
Metadata is information about your phone calls but not their content. It includes the numbers, time of day and duration and perhaps even the locations of calls you made, but not audio of what was said during the call.
"Metadata" is the subject of Scandal No. 1. A document obtained by the British Guardian's shows a court order issued by a secret federal court (Called a FISA court because it was established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) sought "metadata."
You don't need a warrant, courts have ruled, because of the "third-party doctrine." When you dial a phone number, this doctrine says, you voluntarily provide information to a third party, the phone company, right? And the phone company is then free to share it with the government.
As one of my favorite experts,
"The only thing new here, from a legal standpoint, is the scale on which the FBI and NSA are apparently attempting to cull anti-terrorism leads from that data," says Simon, a former police reporter for the
As a former police reporter for the
Those who fear constitutional breeches should first read the Constitution. It is not biblical scripture. It is often conditional, as in the Fourth Amendment's protections against "unreasonable searches." The Ten Commandments, by contrast, do not permit "reasonable adultery."
Then there's Scandal No. 2. According to a top-secret document obtained by The
There, the Post said, the agencies are extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.
That last part is important because tracking foreign targets usually doesn't require a warrant, either.
In other words, nothing to see here, folks. Please move along.
Still, we ask, is
Part of the problem is the massive growth of the intelligence community and its classified documents. A headcount ordered by
We might take the alarm sounded by lawmakers and our intelligence establishment a bit more seriously if they were a bit less secret.