You don’t call your mother enough, pal. And the federal government knows all about it.
Mom didn’t tell them, either.
Apparently, the National Security Agency (NSA), with permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, has been tracking the phone calls and Internet communications of millions of Americans.
Before you confess to your sweetie that the late-night drunk dial you made to your comely new neighbor was the beer talking, the “metadata” being mined show only who you called, when you called and where you both were.
The government is not culling content.
So you’re safe from some low-level government functionary named Francis — who logged three calls from your phone to the liposuction clinic — knowing exactly what you said.
Obviously, if the government is keeping track of private phone calls, even though its scope is limited, we need to be paying attention.
Those senators and federal officials who met the NSA revelations head on said the data are used for the sake of national security, that knowing who is calling whom, and the when and where of it, is a tool in the war on terror.
I’m as security-conscious as the next mama’s boy and never thought much of snoops and busybodies, even and especially the government. Still, I have to tell you that the story generated very little indignation in me.
As a child of the ’60s, a student of Watergate and a lover of fiction’s shadowy whodunits, I figured the feds have always been nosing around my dial tone.
Turns out, I was right, mostly. About the snooping — and the wont and warrant to do it.
I’m not sure about my personal file. Oh, the humanity! Oh, the boredom!
FISA has been around since 1978, a post-Watergate course correction to government domestic snooping and spying abuses during the anti-war, civil rights days of 1960s and 1970s.
The FISA idea was that: If the feds wanted to dip into the private communication of an American, they better have a good reason — and a warrant.
In the uneasy and suspicious days that followed 9/11, however, Congress passed the Patriot Act at the urging of the Bush administration. Renewed by Congress during the Obama administration, the Patriot Act’s Section 215 is where current government officials are finding rationale for the NSA cataloguing.
None of which makes any of this any more acceptable for those keen to protecting their privacy, as is their right.
I’ve heard the government’s argument before, in a letter from a U.S. Attorney’s Office after I wrote a column wondering why the feds — via the Patriot Act — needed to know what books I or any other American was checking out of the library.
The bipartisan history of FISA and the Patriot Act may keep the baling of political hay to a minimum over the phone calls. It wouldn’t be the first time the drumbeat of winning drowns out bigger questions, however.
Privacy is becoming a rare commodity these days, when any nimrod with a smartphone can make you an Internet sensation overnight without you ever knowing, let alone giving him permission.
We now have a consumer expectation that access (and, if we’re lucky, some video) is available to nearly every human experience every minute of every day, regardless of privacy.
Perhaps that, coupled with my experience and imagination, dulled the news that the government had a ledger of my phone calls. But that’s me. Plenty of questions need to be answered about any ongoing domestic program that compromises an American’s privacy.
By the way, the record of my calls, secured in some nondescript building in a typical business park in Anywhere, USA, will show that I call my mother two or three times a week.
Which I know is not enough.