The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 7, 2013

Our View: Overreach

The Joplin Globe

— There is new evidence that our government grows dangerously more intrusive each day under the guise of protecting us from terrorism.

The latest assault — first reported Wednesday by the British paper The Guardian — is this: The Obama administration and before that the Bush administration secretly collected the telephone records of millions of Americans — the exact number is unknown — without their knowledge, justifying it under the Patriot Act. It has gone on for seven years.

Specifically, the federal government has been caught thus far collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon business customers. According to administration officials, federal agents have not been listening to the phone calls themselves and do not know the content of any conversations — so they say —  but rather they are tracking the numbers these Verizon customers called, the time and length of the calls, and related information, and running them through computers to look for suspicious patterns and other things outside the ordinary.

No doubt there is some value in tracking phone calls made from or to known or suspected terrorists and their affiliates, but this appears to be a full sweep with a big Orwellian broom. Phone records are being collected in bulk, whether or not the callers were suspected of some criminal activity.

 It seems the government directed a Verizon subsidiary, Verizon Business Network Services, to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis” to the National Security Agency logs of all land line and mobile calls “between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

Not just some calls, apparently, and not just some suspects, mind you, but all call logs, every day.

That’s a broad net, and coming as it does after the incursion by the government into the political activity of tea party groups in South Carolina, and anti-abortion groups in Iowa, and the equally offensive intrusion by government into telephone calls by journalists, this goes beyond uncomfortable and into alarming.

What is unknown is just who else and what other companies are part of what U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., called an “overreach,” and how this breach of individual liberty is actually benefiting the country — if it is.

There are too many unknowns to allow this to continue.