San Diego Attorney Michael M. Rosen writes:
Ever since USA Today broke a story on May 11 about the National Security Agency's (NSA) secret review of millions of phone records, the media and civil libertarians alike have gotten their knickers in a twist. But here's the problem: the story isn't news, it isn't accurate, and it isn't (or shouldn't be) troubling.WTF? Well:
Back in late December 2005, the New York Times's Eric Lichtblau and James Risen – who had earlier revealed the existence of another NSA program that monitored the content of international communications involving suspected terrorists – reported that NSA officials were analyzing millions of phone records allegedly "collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries."
Worse, the story, and the paper's follow-on reporting, has been deeply misleading. USA Today headlined its article "NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls" (emphasis added). This implies that the government is actually reviewing the content of these calls, not merely the phone records – i.e. the numbers dialed, the frequency of calls, the length of calls, etc. An article on May 16 was entitled "Bush once again defends legality of electronic surveillance programs," implying that the executive branch is eavesdropping on domestic calls, not merely reviewing the data associated with those calls.OK, it's OK for the ACLU to do it, but is this data mining necessary for the government?
This sleight-of-hand, of course, is consistent with USA Today's editorial position. As the paper opined, "only the most naive and unsuspicious soul could trust that it will remain safe, secured and for the eyes only of those hunting terrorists."
Well, call me naïve and unsuspicious, but I have little doubt that this information is indeed crucial in the hunt for terrorists. And perhaps I'm still under the influence of United 93 – a wrenching, intense, beautiful film that every American should see – but it seems crystal-clear to me that the executive branch must be empowered to data-mine in search of potentially life-saving intelligence. After all, advocacy groups such as the ACLU and political parties alike engage in such tactics.
As one security expert succinctly put it to the Wall Street Journal, "the requirement for showing 'probable cause' prior to the use of any data analysis or electronic surveillance technology is appropriate where one is targeting known terrorists. Unfortunately it is not adequate for finding unknown terrorists and what is needed is a legal procedure – authority and oversight – for such uses. The point is that existing mechanisms don't work."