According to an AFP wire story Friday evening, “The US administration defiantly insisted it was doing nothing illegal amid mounting Congress questions over a secret program to track the phone records of millions of Americans.”
That defiance, however, was not matched by support by powerful Republican Members of Congress, fearful of losing control of Congress in November. Maine Senator Susan Collins said, “The administration must be more forthright with Congress about these programs so we can exercise our oversight responsibilities. These surveillance programs should also be subject to the confines of law to ensure oversight and judicial review.”
Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee has already said that he will summon telephone company brass to determine if the Constitution has been violated. And, after meeting with Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the nominee to head the CIA, Senator Chuck Hagel, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said “I think this issue needs to be clearly aired,” following a meeting with Hayden.
Late Friday afternoon, Slate Magazine wrote that the current program “goes well beyond the scope of the NSA domestic-surveillance program revealed last year.” They noted that President Bush at the time said that one end of the communication must be outside the United States. Slate commented, “That assurance turns out to have been highly deceptive, if not an outright lie.”
One of the concerns raised by the article was that the project violates the concept of checks and balances that is built into the very structure of the U.S. government. The magazine said that the executive branch simply cannot be trusted to have sole access to this amount of private information on American citizens.
“This has nothing to do with who the president is,” Slate noted. “It has everything to do with the nature of power. To dispute this fact is to dispute the need for checks and balances; it’s to dismiss the constitutional premise of the U.S. government.”
But while Beltway politicians fretted, it appears that Americans have simply given up concerns about personal privacy. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday, 63 percent of Americans supported the program to collect information on telephone calls made within the U.S. “even if it intrudes on privacy,” with 44 percent strongly supporting it. Only 35 percent objected and of that group, 24 percent strongly objected.
The telephone poll of 502 Americans was conducted on May 11th and has a margin of error of =/- 4 percent. However, the pollsters noted that conducting a poll in one evening presents challenges that could affect the results although they didn’t specify by what margin.
A Post article subhead offered an interesting explanation for the relative lack of concern among Americans: “Consumers Grow Accustomed to Surrendering Personal Data.” The article noted that every time people shop in a grocery store, buy something online, or use a credit card, they know that personal data about them is being collected.