The administration is defending this practice -- because what else are they going to do? Reuters quotes an unnamed White House official:
Such information is "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States," the official said, speaking on the condition of not being named.
"It allows counter-terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States," the official added.
The bigger implications
Everything else is speculation. But it seems pretty safe to assume that -- unless Al Qaeda has some exclusive arrangement with Verizon -- the NSA is doing something similar with every other carrier. In fact this may simply be an extension of the warrantless wiretapping scheme, which was made retroactively legal by Congress in 2008. According to the Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima:
An expert in this aspect of the law said Wednesday night that the order appears to be a routine renewal of a similar order first issued by the same court in 2006. The expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues, said that the order is reissued routinely every 90 days and that it is not related to any particular investigation by the FBI or any other agency.
The expert referred to such orders as "rubber stamps" sought by the telephone companies to protect themselves after the disclosure in 2005 that widespread warrantless wiretaps could leave them liable for damages.
There are many, many things wrong here, staring with the basic fact that the NSA is not supposed to be spying on American citizens. But there can be only two reasons for creating a massive database of every call made in the United States over that long a period: a) it's feeding a yottabyte-scale data mining operation being run in some NSA supercomputer center looking for patterns that allegedly identify networks of terrorists; or b) we are all "suspected terrorists."
When it comes to the privacy of U.S. citizens, the Obama administration is no better than the Bush administration -- and in many ways it's worse.
Not to sound too paranoid, but this is how police states start, folks. First you gather "evidence," then you decide whom you want to use it against. As Bobby Dylan once advised, "keep a clean nose and watch the plain clothes."
Do we need a weatherman to know which way the NSA blows? Post your thoughts on the Verizon-spy debacle below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "Verizon subscribers, feeling paranoid? Because you are being watched," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.