George W. Bush's phone records spying

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This article is part of our coverage of the
Bush administration's domestic spying programs.
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"The privacy of all Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities," President George W. Bush said May 13, 2006, in his weekly radio address. "The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. We are not trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." [1]
"'The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities,'" Bush told reporters May 11, 2006, during "a hastily called session aimed at damage control. 'We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans'." [2]
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The National Security Agency "has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data" provided by AT&T, Verizon Communications and BellSouth Corporation, Leslie Cauley first reported May 10, 2006, in USA Today.

President George W. Bush "lied" when he said that NSA's "spying wasn't a domestic program," A. Alexander, wrote May 11, 2006, in The Progressive Daily Beacon.

The NSA program "reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews," Cauley wrote.

"It is exactly a domestic spy program and what's more AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon have been assisting the Bush government in creating what is being described as, '[T]he largest database ever assembled in the world,' and the goal is 'to create a database of every call ever made' within America's borders," Alexander wrote.

While President Bush justified NSA's domestic phone monitoring as part of a necessary step after 9/11, but the phone monitoring was happening prior to 9/11. Seven months prior to 9/11, the NSA had asked AT&T to set up a domestic call monitoring site. [1] "The allegation is part of a court filing adding AT&T, the nation's largest telephone company, as a defendant in a breach of privacy case filed earlier this month on behalf of Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. customers. The suit alleges that the three carriers, the NSA and President George W. Bush violated the Telecommunications Act of 1934 and the U.S. Constitution, and seeks money damages." [2]

Anti-Surveillance Campaign

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) civil rights group filed complaints in more than 20 states [with] state utility commissions and attorneys general, and demanded the Federal Communications Commission look into the matter" on Wednesday May 24, 2006, "over allegations that phone companies shared customer records with the government's biggest spy agency." [3]

The ACLU "also placed full-page ads in eight large-city newspapers asking the public to join the complaints, saying in bold type: 'AT&T, Verizon and Other Phone Companies May Have Illegally Sent Your Phone Records to the National Security Agency.' Readers were urged to add their names to complaints on the ACLU Web site." [4]

ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero said that the group "believes the phone program was the latest example of 'a longer-term abuse of power by the executive branch'." [5]

Presidential Memorandum Authorizes Telcos to Lie

"Ordinarily, a company that conceals their transactions and activities from the public would violate securities law. But an presidential memorandum signed by the President on May 5 [2006] allows the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, to authorize a company to conceal activities related to national security. (See 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(3)(A))," Judd Legum wrote May 17, 2006.

"There is no evidence that this [memorandum] has been used by John Negroponte with respect to the telcos. Of course, if it was used, we wouldn’t know about it," Legum said.

Bush's Private KGB

Greg Palast pointed out May 12, 2006, that both USA Today and the New York Times have missed the bigger story: "the snooping into your phone bill is just the snout of the pig of a strange, lucrative link-up between the Administration's Homeland Security spy network and private companies operating beyond the reach of the laws meant to protect us from our government. You can call it the privatization of the FBI -- though it is better described as the creation of a private KGB."

"But it won't stop, despite Republican senators shedding big crocodile tears about 'surveillance' of innocent Americans. That's because FEAR is a lucrative business -- not just for ChoicePoint, but for firms such as Syntech, Sybase and Lockheed-Martin -- each of which has provided lucrative posts or profits to connected Republicans including former Total Information Awareness chief John Poindexter (Syntech), Marvin Bush (Sybase) and Lynn Cheney (Lockheed-Martin).

"But how can they get Americans to give up our personal files, our phone logs, our DNA and our rights? Easy. Fear sells better than sex -- and they want you to be afraid," Palast wrote.

Case Challenging Spying

On January 31, 2006, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T and the NSA, the U.S. government. The lawsuit accused AT&T of violating the privacy of its customers and the law by participating in NSA's warrantless wire-tapping program. [3] "Evidence in the case includes undisputed evidence provided by former AT&T telecommunications technician Mark Klein showing AT&T has routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA." [4] In July 2006, District Court Judge Vaughn Walker denied motions to dismiss by both AT&T and the government. [5]

"In June of 2009, a federal judge dismissed Hepting and dozens of other lawsuits against telecoms, ruling that the companies had immunity from liability under the controversial FISA Amendments Act (FISAAA), which was enacted in response to our court victories in Hepting. Signed by President Bush in 2008, the FISAAA allows the Attorney General to require the dismissal of the lawsuits over the telecoms' participation in the warrantless surveillance program if the government secretly certifies to the court that the surveillance did not occur, was legal, or was authorized by the president -- certification that was filed in September of 2008. EFF is planning to appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, primarily arguing that FISAAA is unconstitutional in granting to the president broad discretion to block the courts from considering the core constitutional privacy claims of millions of Americans." [6]

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  • Andrew Harris,"Spy Agency Sought U.S. Call Records Before 9/11, Lawyers Say,","Bloomberg News,"June 30, 2006.
  • Id.
  • EPIC,"Hepting et al. v. AT&T Corp.,","Electronic Privacy Information Center,"May 2007.
  • Eff,"EFF's Case Against AT&T,""Electronic Frontier Foundation,"
  • EPIC,"Hepting et al. v. AT&T Corp.,","Electronic Privacy Information Center,"May 2007.
  • Id.