Americans are expressing outrage at the revelation that from April to July of this year, the White House used Section 215 of the Patriot Act to obtain a secret court order for all phone records (records that show originating and terminating phone numbers, their location, time and duration but not “substantive content of any communication”) from Verizon Business Network Service. Even before this week’s Verizon controversy, privacy advocates had long criticized Section 215 as vastly expanding the FBI’s power to spy on Americans.
One legal expert noted:
“I don’t know of any single other publicly disclosed order in the history of the United States that could have had the far-reaching effect that this one has. We’re probably talking about millions of people.”
David Bromwich, Professor of Literature at Yale blasted Obama for allowing it to happen:
The security policy of the U.S. government from Cheney to Obama has passed from secret surveillance of communications abroad to secret surveillance of all communications at home. In what stages did it happen? Some day the history will be written; for now, it is instructive to rehearse the facts. Five years ago, Barack Obama was a candidate for president who pledged to filibuster a congressional bill that offered amnesty to telecoms that illegally gave information on American customers to the government. When Obama backed down from that promise, he pledged, if elected, to have his attorney general investigate the surveillance of Americans and bring the laws of the land back within the limits of the fourth amendment. As it turned out, he made Eric Holder his attorney general, and the security policy of the Obama administration came to be defined by harsh prosecution of whistleblowers who revealed the facts of illegal searches and seizures.
Still, some are coming short of blaming the Obama Administration noting that Bush administration also collected phone logs — the same sort of “metadata” that the Obama administration is gathering from Verizon — and even conducted wiretaps, but it did so without getting a court order. A Silicon Valley law firm noted that “this order does not permit the collection of the content of communications, so it’s not a wiretap”. Regardless, Americans are saying, “enough is enough – we’ve crossed the line of authoritarian power”. Well, at least until this firestorm blows over and they go back to watching their reruns of Arrested Development…
The full version of the leaked court order (PDF) can be viewed below.