Friday, May 12, 2006

Still Trust the Government?

Last week I discussed a poll that said 67% of Americans trust the government. Maybe we should ask that question again in the wake of revelations about phone companies keeping track of the calls made by ordinary Americans and sharing that information with the National Security Agency. This is the stuff of tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists, and yet it is real.

Bush apologists will try to spin this one as, "It shouldn't concern you if you're not doing anything illegal." But if you aren't doing anything against the law, shouldn't you expect privacy? Think about all the phone calls you've made in your life and ask yourself if you would like to know that the government has a record of all of them. Bush defenders might point out that at least the government is not recording the content of your calls. But that could work both ways -- the data mining operations performed by the NSA may simply make assumptions about the content of calls to certain numbers. The potential for abuse of this data is huge.

Today President Bush is making the predictable claim that no laws have been broken (of course, the administration has repeatedly operated under its own interpretation of the law), along with the patently ridiculous statement he has made with every new revelation of widespread spying on ordinary Americans -- that whenever these tactics are revealed, it makes it harder to fight the "war on terror." Terrorists are not the issue here -- any terrorist with half a brain should fully expect that his calls and actions may be monitored. But regular Joes and Janes don't.

Add to this the fact that cellular companies record every "ping" to your mobile phone, and things get even scarier. As your phone moves, "pings" are how your phone picks up a signal from a tower. You don't need to make a call for your movements to be tracked. Carrying a cell phone is like wearing the electronic transmitters some criminals and parolees must wear on their ankles -- someone knows where you are at all times. The cellular companies sometimes share this information with police, and by extension the government.

The government could conceivably know every call you made, where you were when you made them, and where you went between calls. Do you trust the government enough to let them know your every move?

No comments: