On the list of what makes the United States such a unique country, you can scratch off “the government doesn’t spy on its own citizens who don’t do anything wrong.” Not after The Guardian acquired a secret court order that gives the Obama administration the phone records of its citizens on a daily basis.
It’s all happening under a hotly debated provision of the Patriot Act and a few politicians — very few — tried to warn us. But the “if you’re not doing anything wrong what’s the big deal?” mentality took over, fueled by the fear caused by 19 guys with 99-cent boxcutters.
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.
Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.
The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government’s domestic spying powers.
You think? Or are we just going to shrug our shoulders because this is the way it is? And who will lead the outcry given that the politicians are the ones who wrote the law under which the spying is taking place?
The New York Times says two U.S. senators — Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Senator Mark Udall of Colorado — have lately been raising “cryptic” warnings about the Obama administration spying, and this revelation explains why:
“We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted Section 215 of the Patriot Act,” they wrote last year in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
They added: “As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”
“This is a truly stunning revelation,” Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, tells the Washington Post. “This suggests that the government has been compiling a comprehensive record of Americans’ associations and possibly even their whereabouts.”
None of this, perhaps, should be new. In 2011, NSA analyst Thomas Drake told the New Yorker about Thin Thread, a program that was invented to track “enemies outside the United States,” but instead “got twisted” and used for domestic espionage on U.S. citizens.
When Binney heard the rumors, he was convinced that the new domestic-surveillance program employed components of ThinThread: a bastardized version, stripped of privacy controls. “It was my brainchild,” he said. “But they removed the protections, the anonymization process. When you remove that, you can target anyone.” He said that although he was not “read in” to the new secret surveillance program, “my people were brought in, and they told me, ‘Can you believe they’re doing this? They’re getting billing records on U.S. citizens! They’re putting pen registers’ ”—logs of dialled phone numbers—“ ‘on everyone in the country!’ ”
Drake recalled that, after the October 4th directive, “strange things were happening. Equipment was being moved. People were coming to me and saying, ‘We’re now targeting our own country!’ ” Drake says that N.S.A. officials who helped the agency obtain FISA warrants were suddenly reassigned, a tipoff that the conventional process was being circumvented. He added, “I was concerned that it was illegal, and none of it was necessary.” In his view, domestic data mining “could have been done legally” if the N.S.A. had maintained privacy protections. “But they didn’t want an accountable system.”
For revealing what was happening, Drake was arrested and charged under the Espionage Act.
The story renews a debate that occurred after 9/11: In the age of terrorism, is it really possible to live in a free country? And what does free mean, anyway?
If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person — and, really, who around here isn’t? — the controversy over the Cheerios biracial ad (I told you about it earlier this week, you’ll recall) is all to the good.
There are three lessons to draw from this fevered moment. The first is that this kind of racism is precisely what happens when a society begins moving past racism. Had it not been for the election to the presidency of a biracial man who chooses to identify as black, the Cheerios ad would likely not have been as fiercely attacked or defended. But we do have such a man in the White House. We do live in a time when whiteness and white maleness in particular no longer confer automatic primacy. To angry whites who resent the multicolored future for leaving them behind, lashing out at a mixed-race kid who likes Cheerios might seem like an act of defiant political incorrectness — but it’s the epitome of powerlessness.
The second lesson is that pseudo-controversies often matter not for the “news” or “facts” they purport to convey but for their value as community parables and tales of moral instruction. Why did the media turn this tempest in a cereal bowl into a national phenomenon? Not because every household was already discussing the ad — most of us learned about it only through well-publicized reactions to it — but because this is the kind of thing that (mainly white) news editors and television producers believe that we, as Americans, should collectively disapprove of. And contrived as it all is, this too represents progress.
More signs we’re moving past racism? Yesterday in Saint Paul’s Town Square, one of those junky for-sale tables went up with two women selling various knick-knacks. The jeweled Confederate flag hat that was for sale first thing in the morning was still for sale late yesterday afternoon.
Baby steps, indeed.
When is it time to do the right thing and save a kid’s life, and when is it time to protect the integrity of a system that can — and has — saved others?
The world of bioethics has a tremendous case before it following yesterday’s ruling by a judge that a 12-year-old girl should be allowed to receive adult lung tissue she needs to survive.The rules prohibit children from getting adult organs but that rule may be endangered now. The judge ruled the girl should be on the list of recipients for at least the next 9 days, pending a hearing.
“It is not clear why everyone now waiting at the bottom of any transplant list would not seek relief in federal court,” former U of M bioethicist Art Caplan told NBC News. “Unless the judge has reason to think the lung distribution rules are simply a product of age discrimination and nothing more — which seems highly unlikely — then this becomes a troubling instance of non-doctors deciding who is the best candidate to receive a lung or other scarce medical resource.”
On the surface, it seems like a slam-dunk case. Save the kid’s life and move on. But saving her life might mean someone else — in this case, an adult — does not get the transplant he/she needs to stay alive.
And, of course, when we’re asked to donate our organs, we’re not told either that people under 12 years old can’t have them and they might be exactly the kid of person we’d like to save with our innards, as opposed to — say — the older person with a history of alcoholism or drug use.
Curiously, no one in the system told the parents of the girl that there even was a distinction between adult and pediatric transplant patients, NBC said.
What should the judge have done? Take the survey.
Obviously, this wouldn’t be an issue if there were more organs available for transplant. So consider going here and making all of this a moot point.
As near as we can tell, nothing divides this country like the proper name of the carbonated, sugary drinks you might order at a fast food joint. Is it “pop”, “soda”, or just “Coke”?
Business Insider goes deeper, identifying 22 linguistic disputes that separate the country — pecan, syrup.
And how do we explain the uppity, snobby Northeast calling them sneakers, and the rest of America calling them “tennis shoes?” Why isn’t it the other way around?
I’ll hang up and listen for your response.
Remember this New York Post cover?
The two men wrongly portrayed as the Boston Marathon bombers have now filed suit against the newspaper.
“What kind of stereotyping and profiling, what type of reasoning, led the Post to think this was OK to do?” one of the lawyers told the Boston Globe. “And would they have ever done this if this was just some white kid from the suburbs who was standing there with the backpack?”
Bonus I: St. Paul artist plans to build replica of famous architect's house, burn it and call it art.(Pioneer Press)
Bonus II: The Miss North Dakota pageant hits the Oil Patch, and some people are worried. (Fargo Forum)
WHAT WE’RE DOING
Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Young Republicans and the GOP.
Second hour: We keep hearing that the retirement age is edging further and further back, and that the economy is destroying pensions and 401(k)s – but what are the hard numbers in terms of cash in the bank needed to retire? How much does it take to live comfortably, and to be able to prepare for things like medical bills, etc, so we’re not stuck working into our 90s, or becoming burdens on our adult children? Financial guru Ruth Hayden joins us to give the straight talk about preparing for retirement.
Third hour: Panel discussion from World Science Festival: “The Whispering Mind: The Enduring Conundrum of Consciousness.”
MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens speaking at JFK Library about the controversial cases the court has decided and will decide.
Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – As Assad’s forces seize a critical border town, French lab tests confirm the Syrian Army used toxic gas “several times in a localized manner,” and refugees continue to stream over the borders. NPR’s Deborah Amos joins Neal Conan, with the latest.
All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Same-sex couples can apply for marriage licenses beginning today in several counties in preparation for August 1st , the first they they can legally marry. MPR’s Sasha Aslanian talks with couples lining up in Hennepin County for the first opportunity to apply for a license.
The last farm bill passed with such overwhelming support that when President Bush vetoed it, both chambers of Congress overrode the veto. This time around, passage through the House seems like a far dicier proposition for what was once a popular, bipartisan piece of legislation. Aides estimate as few as 30 Democrats might vote for the House version of the bill while Republicans also struggle to find the votes need to pass the five-year bill. It’s a sign of the waning influence of agriculture and of moderate representatives who were once a mainstay in Congress, MPR’s Mark Steil will report.