Guest Column: The NSA is listening in on you

If you didn’t call your mom Sunday, May 14, Mother’s Day, the National Security Agency will know. And if you did call your mom that day, the NSA will know.

Under CIA director nominee Gen. Michael Hayden, the NSA has been tracking your phone calls since 2001, according to a recent USA Today article. And not just when you call your grandma in Poland or your customer in Hong Kong. We’re talking the call you make to your spouse, your doctor, your stockbroker, your lover, your therapist, your bookie, your dealer, your escort service, American Idol, and that every-so-often phone sex line.

Once upon a time, President George W. Bush told us that he’d given the NSA permission to eavesdrop on the international phone calls of suspected terrorists or people suspected of having links to suspected terrorists. He said he could do this because he’s the President of the United States, and he didn’t need no stinkin’ permission or warrant from a FISA court or anybody else.

Besides, the NSA would only do this, President Bush said, when one of the people on the phone call was outside the United States. If both people on the call were in the United States, well, then, gosh-darn, no way the NSA is tracking that call.

Turns out President Bush was mistaken. Again. Faulty intelligence?

Not to worry. The NSA is “only” collecting call records. You know, merely the history of whom you’ve called and who’s called you since late 2001. They’re not including customer names, street addresses or other personal information. Can you say cross-reference? Reverse lookup?

The point of all this? The NSA says it’s to create and maintain a database of every phone call ever made within the borders of these United States. Every phone call. Ever made. By anyone. Ever.

When approached by NSA soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, telecommunications giants AT&T, BellSouth, SBC and Verizon didn’t hesitate to dole out the data.

The only major telecommunications company to decline the invitation to cooperate was Quest. Its lawyers had the unmitigated gall to ask a few questions. Like, how about running this by the FISA court? Remember FISA? The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that set out a few rules for this kind of stuff? Or maybe a letter of authorization from Alberto Gonzales? You know, the Attorney General of the United States? The NSA refused.

Now go make that phone call.

Sandra J. Slaga is a local attorney and writer.

From the May 31-June 6, 2006, issue

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