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They Can Hear You Now

I’m outraged, but not shocked, at the revelation that Verizon has been giving millions of phone records to the federal government under court order

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent whose comments were echoed by several members of both parties, said: “To simply say in a blanket way that millions and millions of Americans are going to have their phone records checked by the U.S. government is to my mind indefensible and unacceptable.”

The disclosure raised a number of questions: What is the government looking for? Are other big telephone companies under similar orders to turn over information? How is the information used and how long are the records kept?

The sweeping roundup of U.S. phone records has been going on for years and was a key part of the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program, according to a U.S. official.

Attorney General Eric Holder sidestepped questions about the issue during an appearance before a Senate subcommittee, offering instead to discuss it at a classified session that several senators said they would arrange.

The order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19, the Guardian reported. It requires Verizon, one of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies, on an “ongoing, daily basis,” to give the NSA information on all landline and mobile telephone calls of Verizon Business in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration, the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether the people are suspected of any wrongdoing.

A former U.S. intelligence official who is familiar with the NSA program said that records from all U.S. phone companies would be seized by the government under the warrants, and that they would include business and residential numbers.

I can’t say I like agreeing with Sanders or, God help me Al Gore, but the pro side led by Lindsey Graham doesn’t inspire confidence either. I’m not against searching phone records per se, but an indiscriminate fishing expedition, especially by these yahoos, is a disaster.

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