Blog Buzz: Obama, Can You Hear Me Now?

The blogosphere reacts to the news that the government has been secretly collecting phone data from cell phone customers.

Using a smart phone.
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[ Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]Gregory Ferenstein of Tech Crunch said he has typcially been skeptical of a real threat to privacy posed by government surveillance programs, but recent events have caused him to rethink:
Late last year, I wrote about a few actual harms that citizens should be worried about from these types of big-data spying programs. Blackmailing citizens critical of the government seemed like a distant hypothetical, until we learned that the IRS was auditing Tea Party groups and journalists were being wiretapped. Nefarious actors inside the government like to abuse national security programs for political ends, and that should make us all (even more) suspect of government spying.Some government secrecy is necessary for national security purposes. But it's justified based on our trust that the information will be used with care. With every passing scandal, the justification for these types of programs becomes more and more questionable.Andrea Peterson of Think Progress said the Verizon monitoring may not be the extent of the government's communications surveilling, as it may be collecting email data as well:
New revelations that the NSA has continued to secretly suck up information associated with domestic phone calls are not only a reminder that Bush era surveillance programs live on (albeit with slightly more judicial oversight) under the Obama administration — they are an opportunity to consider the very real possibility that the NSA is also collecting a similar treasure trove of non-communications content data related to email. Information like email senders and recipients and time stamps is often seen by the government as analogous to the type of phone metadata Verizon was ordered to turn over and under the Foreign Information Surveillance Act (FISA) re-authorization, that data and possibly more could be gathered with the same type of secret order.…The Administration won't reveal how many Americans' emails the NSA has collected and reviewed without a warrant. This implies that FISA has been used to intercept the content of email communications on a broader scale than currently known and may be evidence that the agency would not have a problem with the dragnet collection non-content data. And Members of Congress have said the bulk data collected by the NSA under the Patriot Act go further than the public knows, or would be comfortable with. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) wrote in 2012 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, "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."[ See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]Lydia Depillis of the New Republic disagreed, however, saying the nature of the internet makes it less likely to provide user information to the government, because it is less obliged to comply with regulations:
The telecom industry has always had a cozier relationship with government, dating back to its days as a regulated monopoly called Ma Bell. It's used to cooperating with requests from officials, since it used to be required to as a condition of its privileged status, and still needs to work with agencies like the Federal Communications Commission for access to public airwaves. That's why public interest advocates tend to complain about regulatory capture: There's a well-oiled revolving door between the big telecom companies and senior government positions (conveniently, Verizon's chief security officer used to work for the FBI). By contrast, the Internet is a less regulated realm—partly because it's newer—and zealously guards its freedom. Internet companies tend to exchange staff with groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology, instead of regulatory agencies and the security state.Joshua Foust offered a few quick thoughts on why public outrage shouldn't be directed at the Obama administration, and why nothing will actually change now that the public knows about the information collection: