Sweeping U.S. Surveillance Program Raises Privacy Concerns

Washington

The revelation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency have been carrying out a secret surveillance program of American cell phone calls raises serious concerns and important questions about individual privacy in a digital age.

A Top Secret court order requiring Verizon Business Network Services to hand over "metadata" for all of its U.S.-based customers over a 3-month period, including originating and terminating telephone numbers; length of call times; and other identifying information, though not the names or addresses, was made public Wednesday, June 5.  It is unclear whether other carriers have been the subject of similar orders.

“The administration appears to be vastly overstepping its publicly stated practices in its surveillance of U.S. citizens,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House.  “This type of broad, vague order threatens personal privacy and does not appear to meet the government’s own stated criteria for such surveillance orders. “

In a statement before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security in March 2011, Todd Hinnen, then Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, said that these types of records would only be sought when "relevant to authorized national security investigations” and “not based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment." 

"While protecting our national security, Congress needs to investigate this matter and report its findings to the American public,” said Kramer.  “The administration should explain and acknowledge the scope and provide justification for these requests."

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