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Phone More Dangerous Than Gun: Obama Checks Background of Every Verizon Caller

The Displaced Plainsman did not vote for Obama in 2012. He feels even more justified in voting Libertarian now that we learn the Obama Administration has a court order allowing it to snoop on every phone call made by every American using Verizon between April 25 and July 19.

Kallis dishes bipartisanly this a.m., raging against Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's blithe waiver of our Fourth Amendment rights under the classic trope of "if you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about." The Displaced Plainsman thunders thus:

If I have done nothing wrong, I suppose I have nothing to worry about if the police bring drug dogs into my house without a warrant. If I have done nothing wrong, I have nothing to worry about if the police stop me without probable cause while I'm walking around the park and take me to the police station to ask me questions about my associations with Al Qaeda or if I've ever been a member of the Communist Party [Leo Kallis, "A Minor Rant About NSA Seizing All Of Verizon's Customers' Call Records," The Displaced Plainsman, 2013.06.06].

Permit me to highlight Mr. Schwartz's logical extension of Kallis's indictment of Senator Graham's position: if I have done nothing wrong, I have nothing to worry about if the government runs a background check on me before I buy a gun.

Do we have any real Constitutionalists left? Do rational voters like Kallis and Schwartz have any viable political options left in body politic governed by fear and money?

Update 10:15 MDT—Bonus Bill of Rights Blast: Senator Lindsey Graham also isn't sure whether the First Amendment covers bloggers. (Short answer: yes, it does.)


  1. bwschwartz 2013.06.06

    While Verizon is catching a lot of heat over this on the interwebs despite being compelled by a secret FISA warrant, does anyone not believe that all US wireless carriers are also being compelled under secret FISA warrants of their own that haven't as of yet been leaked?

  2. Rorschach 2013.06.06

    How casually we acquiesce to the loss of our freedom from surveillance and to government and commercial intrusions into every databased aspect of our lives.

  3. David Newquist 2013.06.06

    Actually, this court order does not apply to all Verizon callers, but to a Verizon Communications subsidiary, Verizon Business Network Services. It is hard to imagine why subscribers to a business service would be regarded as the place potential terrorists might choose to conduct their transactions.

    One must also wonder if the Obama administration is so fearful of being accused of being soft on terror that it take these measures or what motivations are behind them. Paranoia seems to be a transmissible mental disease. Truly bipartisan.

  4. Kal Lis 2013.06.06

    Graham must be trying to give a stroke or help the economy by forcing me to buy a new laptop because I've thrown mine against the wall.

    The National Journal does have an update based on a Graham tweet.

    I hope that there will be a bit of a realignment in the next few years.

    I should say that I am willing to do protest votes on Presidential ballots because of the electoral college. At the state and local level, I have to the belief that I have to cast the ballot for the best candidates even if the best is the one who is least objectionable.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.06

    Kal Lis, maybe we need to get Dr. Bosworth to run as an Independent to expand our choices... assuming, of course, she has given any thought to any policy issues beyond health care.

    David, your point is well taken, and raises good questions. Why look for terrorists just among business customers? I'd like to believe the Obama Administration is investigating the much greater ongoing damage wrought by crony capitalists than by Muslim terrorists on American soil... but I suspect Bob's thesis is more likely, that this order on VBNS is just one of many giving the Obama Administration access to our records on all US telecoms.

    And R, as you know, I hate casual acquiescence. Where are Noem, Thune, and Johnson on this?

  6. Stan Gibilisco 2013.06.06

    When I lived in Miami Beach, in fact shortly after I moved to the place which I still affectionately refer to as the "XYZ Health Resort" (name omitted to protect the guilty) because one could easily lose 10 pounds in a week there by catching the pneumonia floating around (as I did, going from 134 to 124 pounds without even trying) ... When I first moved there the cops came a-knocking.

    They said they wanted to search all 1500 apartment units in the building for severed body parts, you know, a la the habits of a certain protein-deprived individual who hailed from Wisconsin.

    I let them in. They were jovial about the whole thing. Heck, I had no severed body parts in my fridge or closet.

    They took a minute and ten seconds and then they were gone. While they searched, a female cop stood by the door. We looked at each other like, "Some world we live in here, ain't it?"

    Now for the ideal opening scenario for a really really really bad novel: Cop opens freezer door and a dead face stares back at him.


    Don't fart unless you want the whole wide world to hear it. That's what I would tell my kids if I had any. Thank God I don't.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. What idiot said that?

  7. Douglas Wiken 2013.06.06

    My guess is that Bob Schwartz is correct. All FISA court records are secret. Even the membership is secret. What is known, is that of 1800 government requests to intrude on data, none of the 1800 has been refused.

    Secret courts that acquiesce to any government request to invade privacy are not a court, but a rubber stamp. This all has too much in common with the inquisition. Any data kept is supposed to be secret for 30 years.

    Public radio this afternoon noted that all data scanned is "meta data";ie, the names of senders and receivers, their location, etc. but presumably none of the message conversation.

    Apparently there was no reason given for this search or no specific scan criteria. Verizon is prohibited from reporting it is part of a scan or what the scan is for or about.

    While is seems rational to suspect every bit of information we send in any way is probably scanned by some brain-numb bureaucrat or computerized scanner, it is hard for citizens to know this when Congress holds secret meetings and the consequences of their secrecy are also kept secret.

    Congress has generated this mess, it is unseemly for them to show outrage and blame us for our ignorance. This has much in common with fouled up IRS laws and regulations also generated by Congress.

    Terrrorists from religious insanity detest freedom. It seems doubly ironic that their attacks on us should generate a system that they approve of.

  8. Brother Beaker 2013.06.06

    C'mon, CH! I expect a little bi-partisanship in your indignation, not a casual aside about the Verizon records to be followed by a rabbit trail leading to Lindsey Graham. Graham's statement is certainly worthy of ridicule, but shouldn't we start with the architect of the policy, not the guy who defends it after the fact? Ronald Reagan is getting jealous of Obama's teflon!

    And a guy who hates casual acquiescence should subject that Che t-shirt to a bit more scrutiny. Che is a symbol of something that he never was. I understand why college kids flock to him, but by the time you're running for senate, he's about as meaningful as your tattoo that (you're told) means "strength and inner beauty."

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.06

    Brother B, who was the architect of the policy? Was it George W. Bush, who signed the Patriot Act, or was it part of the package that Janet Reno and the Clinton Administration came up with after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing but stowed on the shelf for the right political moment?

  10. jerry 2013.06.06

    Pretty old news. The internets and the phones have been subject to and listened in on since 2001. Why the outrage now? The republicans all said at the time "If you do not have anything to hide, why should you care if someone is checking on you"? I heard this at the time and thought, what the hell? I did not know it would take a decade for people to finally get pissed off about. Bush signed the law and Obama renewed it and Hillary or Willard Mittens Romney will do the same. Sometimes, we all should just say an obscene word when we write or call someone, just to be a rebel. Here is a thought, how about putting down the cell phone and just drive. If you have something important and private to say, do it face to face or try writing a letter. What a concept, a letter, geesh.

  11. Douglas Wiken 2013.06.06

    Yup. Send a letter after using the telephone in a "suspicious" way to call a "suspicious" person and your mail will also be opened.

  12. jerry 2013.06.06

    Do the "Pulp Fiction" deal. Crank call, crank call! Even if it is your mother. Act like you do not know anyone, or anyone knows you. If you do send the letter, don't write anything other than a question mark. That will show them that you are not a person to mess with and you know stuff.

  13. Ken Blanchard 2013.06.06

    If someone commits a terrorist act or is in the progress of doing the same, it seems to be sensible that the government should be able to find out who that person is in contact with. I am with the Administration on this one. However, if the national security apparatus is to have the necessary information and at the same time our privacy is to be protected, we need to be able to trust the apparatus.

    The IRS scandal tears a deep hole in that trust. Yet Heidelbeger and Wiken don't seem to mind at all that the IRS specifically targeted tea party "liars".

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.07

    Ken, there is much more reason for the federal government to investigate obviously political organizations seeking a tax break under rules that should apply only to non-political organizations than there is to investigate every citizen who picks up a telephone. With the surveillance of every American's electronic communications, absent probable cause or reasonable suspicion, the government is going too far. If there is a problem with the IRS's scrutiny of 501(c)4 applications, it is that the government is not going far enough.

  15. kurtz 2013.06.07

    Anyone who believes that electronic eavesdropping hasn't been happening in the chemical toilet since the Janklow regime is an idiot.

  16. Les 2013.06.07

    Jerry's close to right about 2001 surveillance.
    They've listened to phones much longer than 01 and after the internet went Ethernet based the Gov forced all providers at a cost in our little world of about $150/customer to put CALEA compliant routers in place. In other words some roughly 8 years back they made sure they had access to all internet traffic. .
    Crony capitalism vs Muslim based terrorism Corey? I could possibly see your view if you could step out of your left wing locker admitting the almighty Dem party has some part to play in hijacking the worlds nat resources under the bluff of the battle against terrorism as both parties do so well.

    Whether it was started under Bush, Clinton or God only know what leader of the darkness, I would hope the intelligence here could rise enough to understand the ruse the party of two works under!

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.07

    "hijacking the worlds nat resources under the bluff of the battle against terrorism"—Les, I'm going to need you to explain that point before I can accept or rebut it. But I'll elaborate on my point: the constant, ongoing, institutional limitation of my liberty by billionaire corporatists in cahoots with our surveilling government has much more negative impact on my life than the occasional outbursts of violence by scattered, marginalized terrorist groups of any flavor.

  18. Les 2013.06.07

    You just explained that point your self Corey. International Corp interests supported by both parties warring under the guise of fighting terrorism while either defending the petro dollar or controlling their nat resources. Don't tell me only GOP conservs are a part of that game!

  19. Ken Blanchard 2013.06.07

    Cory: you dodge the issue. The IRS is not in trouble for selecting out "political" organizations. It is in trouble for selecting out conservative organizations. They didn't give the Sierra Club any trouble, did they? That isn't because the Sierra Club is nonpartisan. That is an open abuse of the police powers. The White House wanted to blame the folks in Cincinnati. It now seems certain that the operation was directed from Washington.

    Try being honest for just a moment. If this were the Bush administration and the IRS were harassing left wing groups, what you say? What you genuinely think?

    My point still stands. These massive data collecting programs are a cause for concern and they remind us that we need to be able to trust the police. We know now that we cannot trust this administration.

  20. Owen Reitzel 2013.06.07

    Ken the IRS did investigate liberal organizations in 2004. They even checked out a liberal leaning church. In fact one liberal group was turned down. How many conservative groups were turned down? Ah, none.
    Where was the outrage from the conservatives back then? There was none.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.07

    My point stands, too: the problems are very different. The IRS should be giving more political groups seeking tax breaks for their political activity scrutiny. The government should be giving all Americans' private conversations less scrutiny.

  22. Douglas Wiken 2013.06.07

    The real problem is considering corporations to be people with all the rights and privileges of humans.

    Congress could fix the problems with the regulations that the IRS ignores or abuses in one day if they were interested in actually doing something instead of appealing to distaste for the IRS because it is the government collection agency.

    Any tax loopholes should be scrutinized.

  23. Les 2013.06.07

    This is data harvesting, no less. It is not being used in the immediate moment. However, comes the day five years down the road when they're investigating Cory and IP, the data shows Ive spoken with Cory and now I'm a villain as well. They will have so much data they can convict almost any citizen by reasonable suspicion the new tool destroying the 4th amendment.

  24. Les 2013.06.07

    Both parties are privy to this knowledge Ken, Corey and Owen.

    This corruption of our system is hardly different than the insider trading by congress being outlawed and later amended, readacted, retracted whatever you wish to call it by whom for whom? Same folks ripping the veil of our constitution and for some reason most of you find comfort in blaming it on the other guy. No less disgusting than the acts themselves.

  25. Douglas Wiken 2013.06.07

    I heard a comment today on public radio. I did not hear who reported it or who originally said it, but it is worth thinking about.

    If all this communication meta-data is kept, require that before it be used, that a specific individual or group be the only data examined and a warrant specifically for that be required.

    Otherwise, this dragnet scanning of all kinds of messages with meaningless rubber-stamp court approval so general as to be useless as limitation, can lead to all kinds of governmental mischief.

    Other comments I heard today compare this to China, Russia, etc. and find a fundamental difference. The messages here are not censored in advance. That is true, but not all that reassuring.

    Others have exclaimed that credit card companies, banks, retailers, etc all keep information. Mark Shields and David Brooks discussed this tonight. Shields noted that the commercial interests can't prosecute you using the data they keep as could the government with all kinds of power in the name of anti-terrorism.

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