Recent reports have revealed that the FBI and National Security Agency are “tapped” directly into the servers of the nation’s top Internet providers and collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. It is strongly suspected that the federal government is also collecting call data from all other major phone carriers.
I was told earlier today by a colleague from another civil rights organization “there is a good chance that the feds are intercepting my phone calls and emails, but I am sure that everyone in your organization and the Muslim community are under surveillance.”
My response was,“We are all under surveillance.”
I am a policy advocate for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.
As a nation we sat idly by while Congress passed and the president signed into law the USA PATRIOT Act and expanded the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – the primary sources of authority for these expansive domestic spying programs.
While Americans were told that these programs would be used primarily to target violent extremist groups like al-Qaeda, federal law enforcement and national security agencies quickly used their new found powers to spy on American citizens.
At present, the FBI and NSA have obtained direct access, under FISA secret court orders, to the servers of Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft (Hotmail, etc.), Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, and AOL. Under a surveillance program, code-named PRISM, they are collecting data on personal emails, chats, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferences, logins, and details on online social networking.
It has also been reported that FBI and the NSA are using the USA PATRIOT Act to obtain FISA secret court orders instructing Verizon Business Network Services to turn over millions of customer phone records. Under this secret court order, Verizon must provide the FBI and NSA with phone records “between the United States and abroad” and “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
This includes the phone numbers for both parties on a call, as well as data on time, location, duration, and other unique identifiers — but not the names of persons participating in the calls (although such information is easily attainable) and the content of their conversations.
Earlier today President Obama said at a press conference that we as a nation “Can’t have 100 percent safety and 100 percent security and 0 percent inconvenience.”
In response to the president, I would quote one of our nation’s founding fathers Benjamin Franklin, who said, “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”
This all-encompassing domestic spying program that collects and deciphers metadata aggregated from our phone calls, emails, and online footprints does not only affect the civil rights of American Muslims, it coercively dismantles the privacy and free speech rights of all Americans.
Such domestic spying programs can easily be dismantled, however, if all Americans who value the constitutional protections of privacy and prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure take action by contacting their elected representatives.
In 2011, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, warned that “when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”
I believe that it is entirely appropriate in light of these recent revelations that Americans join together in expressing their shock and anger over such abusive and unconstitutional government spying programs.
Some in Congress and the White House say that these spying programs are lawful under the USA PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. During a recent conference call joined by some of the nation’s leading rights organizations that work on surveillance issues it was agreed that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is clear:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…”
Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR’s national headquarters on Capitol Hill.