Revelations that the government has collected phone-call records of millions of Americans touched off a political firestorm Thursday in Washington that spread quickly to Silicon Valley, where the news fueled outrage among business and community leaders – particularly those who make a lot of overseas calls.
Triggering the furor was a USA Today report that at least three companies -- AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth -- turned over call records for millions of their customers to the super-secret National Security Agency, which searches them for patterns to help identify terrorist networks. One source said the goal of the program, put into place shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, is to build a database of every call made within the country.
Critics said the massive collection of phone records violates Americans' privacy and raises disturbing questions about the government's reach into personal lives.
''Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with Al-Qaida?'' Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked. ''If that's the case, we've really failed in any kind of a war on terror.''
Bay Area citizens voiced suspicion and fear that phone logs would lead to surveillance of their phone calls.
''Even if it's just our phone call records, it's a very dangerous precedent,'' said Dilawar Syed, a Bay area tech professional from Pakistan. ''Now that they have the data, what will it take before they record and listen to our calls?''
Local leaders expressed shock and outrage. Immigrants within the Muslim and South Asian communities were particularly concerned, fearing the program would target their members. ''They're grasping at straws to find links to terrorism,'' said Sameena Usman, a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Santa Clara.
The organization received calls Thursday from Bay Area Muslims who suspect they are victims of wiretapping.