Someday, a young girl will look up into her father’s eyes and ask, “Daddy, what was privacy?"
The father probably won’t recall. I fear we’ve already forgotten that there was a time when a U.S. citizen’s telephone calls were nobody else’s business. A time when people would have been shocked and angered to learn that the government is compiling a detailed log of ostensibly private calls made and received by millions of Americans.
The Guardian newspaper of Britain reported Thursday night that the U.S. government is collecting such information about customers of Verizon Business Network Services, one of the nation’s biggest providers of phone and Internet services to corporations. The ho-hum reaction from officials who are in the know suggests that the government may be compiling similar information about Americans who use other phone service providers as well.
The Guardian got its scoop by obtaining a secret order signed by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Since we know so little about this shadowy court’s proceedings and rulings, it’s hard to put the Verizon order in context. The instructions to Verizon about what information it must provide take up just one paragraph, with almost no detail or elaboration. The tone suggests a communication between parties who both know the drill.
Indeed, Senate intelligence committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said the order obtained by the Guardian was nothing more than a “three-month renewal of what has been in place for the past seven years.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., another intelligence committee member, also said that “this has been going on for seven years” — and added that “to my knowledge there has not been any citizen who has registered a complaint.” Chambliss did not explain how any citizen could possibly have complained about a snooping program whose existence was kept secret.