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Is Big Brother Watching?

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The latest controversy about the NSA spying on Americans once again takes facts, twists them to the breaking point, and then panics that the sky is falling. The sole source for this program has been the USA Today article that alarmingly says the NSA is spying on Americans.

The program was voluntary.

According to the USA Today article, giving the information to the NSA was not required. In fact, one carrier (Qwest) declined to participate. This means that the federal government did not require these companies to participate, it merely asked them. In fact, it paid the companies for the information and it was provided “under contract.”

The NSA’s domestic program began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the sources. Right around that time, they said, NSA representatives approached the nation’s biggest telecommunications companies. The agency made an urgent pitch: National security is at risk, and we need your help to protect the country from attacks.

The agency told the companies that it wanted them to turn over their “call-detail records,” a complete listing of the calling histories of their millions of customers. In addition, the NSA wanted the carriers to provide updates, which would enable the agency to keep tabs on the nation’s calling habits.

The sources said the NSA made clear that it was willing to pay for the cooperation. AT&T, which at the time was headed by C. Michael Armstrong, agreed to help the NSA. So did BellSouth, headed by F. Duane Ackerman; SBC, headed by Ed Whitacre; and Verizon, headed by Ivan Seidenberg.

With that, the NSA’s domestic program began in earnest.

The government is not prevented by any law from buying records that companies willingly will sell. If those companies violated their privacy policy, an entrepreneurial lawyer will have a cause of action in litigating the phone companies for their breach of privacy policy. However, the government is not “spying” when it buys records that are put out on the common market, even if there is only one buyer.

Data-mining is not spying.

Once again, data-mining is not the same as spying. What the NSA received was a list of phone calls with call durations and source and destination phone numbers. That’s it. Spying would be listening to the call. Spying would be recording the call. This was not spying.

The continuing use of the most inflammatory language possible indicates an agenda and an attempt to drum up fear that “Bush will kill us all.” Time and time again the MSM gets caught up in these attempts to manufacture a crisis. In this case, it appears that the American people support the President on this one.

Don’t believe everything you read.

It is important to note that the first draft of these so-called scandals that get run by the MSM tend not to hold up much more than a week after being scrutinized. The press has to gain readership to raise their advertising income. They tend to do this two ways, by making their readers afraid or making their readers angry. This influences how they write their stories.

In this case, the inflammatory language is misleading and the legal question rests not on whether or not warrants were needed, but whether or not the phone companies should have sold the information in the first place, certainly in the complete absence of any coercion.

About John Bambenek

John Bambenek is a political activist and computer security expert. He has his own company Bambenek Consulting in Champaign, IL that specializes in digital forensics and computer security investigations.
  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    In a dictatorship, you can openly act according to certain norms and it will be “understood.” In a dictatorship, four guys can knock on your door at two in the morning and take you away. Those awake watching will quiver in silence. Gulags will spring up, torture centers will arise, irregularities of all sorts will occur, and the people will “understand.” These are the rules of the game, so to speak.

    This was true in Chile, Italy, Greece, Spain, Argentina, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and a host of other open dictatorships of the past. It is still true in China.

    If you wnt to run a “democracy” in a dictatorial fashion, you must be much more careful and circumspect. Accidents are far more understandable than assassinations or midnight kidnappings. Torture centers cannot be obvious at all. Freedoms must be eroded in such a way that leaves those who complain of their loss with no credibility.

    If a state governor wants to use the state patrol to procure women to rape and abuse for his personal pleasure, for example, it must be done in a very furtive fashion. One cannot pull this off the way it was done in Iraq to please the son of Saddam Hussein.

    Information management becomes a sophisticated art, rather than merely the blue pencilling of a censor. And at all times, the forms of democracy, whatever they happen to be in the jurisdiction, must be respected so that someone like you will not suspect that something different is going on.

  • John Bambenek

    There’s a difference in being subtle and being subtle to the point of non-existence. You’d expect that many “accidents” would have happened by now to silence some of the big critics, yet they’re still alive.

    So until corpses start showing up, I think your case is pretty much dead in the water.

    Take off your tin foil hat.

  • TA Dodger

    The program was voluntary.

    I don’t remember getting a letter from the NSA or AT&T asking me to “volunteer.”

    Data-mining is not spying.

    Unless you consider spying to be the covert gathering of information for intelligence purposes… which it is.

    Don’t believe everything you read.

    Your article certainly proves this is good advice.