CBS News reported that Verizon is not the only company who wants to “share everything,” with the federal government, and some lawmakers say the surveillance program which allows companies to hand over Americans’ phone records has been going on for years.
Cindy Cohn, of the privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said it’s probable that similar programs exist with every large phone company, and that her organization has been suing those companies over this issue since 2006.
What’s more, she says, those telecommunications firms have been granted legal immunity from the government, which means no customer of such a company can sue over privacy concerns. Her group has been fighting this and similar surveillance programs in the courts with few victories.
Numerous lawmakers were quick to defend the spying program, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. going so far as to tell the media to “calm down” and Mike Rogers, R-Mich. saying that the program prevented a domestic terror attack. However, he did not elaborate.
But other lawmakers condemned the plan. Rand Paul wrote in the Guardian: “Senator Obama in 2008 wanted to track potential terrorist activity “without undermining our commitment to the rule of law, or our basic rights and liberties”. Today, President Obama undermines the rule of law, basic rights and core liberties – all in the name of tracking terrorists.” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc. called the plan “un-American.”
Some members of the privacy advocacy community expressed shock at the depth and breadth of the program. The Electronic Privacy Information Center Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said he was “surprised” at the “unprecedented” and “unlawful” nature of the program and wondered what kind of conflicts might be occurring at Verizon internal offices.
While NBC reported that the program does not include the ability for the government to actually hear the contents of a phone call, a report by The Guardian back in May that featured whistleblower and former FBI agent Tom Celemente proposed the exact opposite- that there are ways for the contents of all phone calls to be accessed via an enormous NSA database.
Other advocacy groups, such as the ACLU, have also been focused on this issue in recent years. One of the main concerns, they say, is not only the tremendous chilling effect which can occur in the face of surveillance, but also the public’s complacency about their eroding privacy.
So, far, Verizon has not offered its customers any statement about its participation in the surveillance program.
Written By: Rebecca Savastio