Washington controversies that involve the invasion of privacy and terrorism have a way of clarifying, with uncommon speed, what exactly the town's leaders and critics believe. So it's no surprise that The Guardian's massive scoop on the National Security Agency's furtive collection of Verizon call records inspired an array of politicians and columnists to defend the practice of gathering data about American citizens who have been accused of no wrongdoing, in part because many of these individuals supported and voted for it. (Senators are even going on the Congressional record with their defense.) What's odd here is the tone: By actors across the political spectrum, in journalistic organs left and right, Glenn Greenwald's report has been treated as, well, un-surprising. Old hat. This raises a pretty big question: If the NSA's agenda amounts to ho-hum, procedural intelligence gathering — with no real repercussions for civil rights — why does it operate under near-total secrecy? In a way, the spirited defenses collected below offer an answer to this catch-22. Here's a (continually updating) guide to who's sticking their neck out on behalf of the NSA:
Politicians, current and former
Senator Saxby Chambliss: "This is nothing particularly new. This has been going on for seven years under the auspices of the FISA authority and every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this."
Senator Lindsey Graham: "We don't have anything to worry about" and "I'm glad the NSA is trying to find out what the terrorists are up to overseas and in our country."
Former Congressman Newt Gingrich: "If what you're trying to do is avoid the kind of terrorism that occurred in Boston ... or in Times Square a couple of years ago, I'm for whatever it takes, as long as it's restricted to the National Security Agency ... It's a war."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: "Everyone should just calm down" and "It's been going on for 7 years"
Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review: "Here is what they don’t tell you. Telephone record information ... is not and has never been protected by the Fourth Amendment."
Unlike the content of your communications, you have no expectation of privacy in your telephone activity records. If you think about it for a second, you know you don’t. If there were a mistake on your phone bill – for example, if you were charged for a long-distance call you didn’t make — you would expect to be able to call your phone company and have the problem addressed. That is because you understand that, when you make a call, this information is not secret: your phone company keeps records of whom you called and how long the call lasted.
Andrew Sullivan at The Dish: "This kind of technology is one of the US’ only competitive advantages against Jihadists."
Yes, its abuses could be terrible. But so could the consequences of its absence. Maybe the record shows my passionate denunciation of this by Bush. I don’t remember it. If someone finds me in a double-standard here, let me know.
The information the NSA is collecting is metadata, not content (like a wiretap), and not account names. Uncovering personally identifiable information would require separate warrants to do so. This was a pattern analysis, not really mass surveillance as we traditionally understand it. Anyone who calls this a “wiretap” is probably stupid or didn’t read the order.