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When the Government Knows Who Calls Who

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On one Sunday morning news program after another, the NSA data collection efforts were dismissed on the grounds that the government only knows who calls who, not what was said. No one on any of the shows I watched tried to explain why anyone should care if the government has detailed historical records of who calls whom, covering millions of Americans.

Let me try:

People call journalists or Congressional offices, often to criticize what the government is doing, or to criticize what other powerful parties are doing, including big corporations (or others) with close ties to the White House. People call physiatrists, debt counselors, lovers, sex workers, divorce lawyers, bookies, head hunters, close friends, professional collaborators, and others.

We know that Dick Cheney is a curious guy when he senses hostility. We know HUD Alphonso Jackson doesn't like to give government contracts to people who don't like the president. We know the federal government doesn't like people who leak the wrong stuff to the wrong people. (Who is calling certain USA Today reporters, for example?)

Can you imagine how interesting it would be to have this type of information on one of your enemies? To know exactly whom they call, and who calls them, and exactly when, going back at least five years? Can you imagine how interesting someone might find these same items, about you?

We also know there is almost no end to the White House lying about what the government is actually doing on this front.

So how is this information about who calls whom being used? Whom can you ask? Whom would you trust to tell you?

Do reporters care that all of their calls are likely tracked by the government?

Can the democrats in the Congress actually explain to the public why the government collection of this type of information is a recipe for abuses?

If this is acceptable for Bush, do the republicans think it won't be done by a Democrat in the White House?

UPDATE: On May 15, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito of ABC report that the Bush Administration is indeed tracking whom they talk to on the telephone. Ross and Esposito quote a federal official as saying: "Think of it more as backtracking," and confirming that the phone records of ABC News, the New York Times and the Washington Post had been sought as part of a investigation of leaks at the CIA.

Josh Marshall looks further at this issue.

The original USA Today article.