Yesterday's USA Today report on the National Security Agency's acquisition of domestic phone records from major telecommunications companies throws fuel on an already fiery discussion about government eavesdropping on American citizens. Does NSA even need the information AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth have voluntarily provided? Did the phone companies' cooperation violate Section 222 of the Communications Act? What about Qwest Communications, the only holdout among the major telecom companies? How does this square with the government's earlier assurances that it was only monitoring international calls—and given the constantly shifting goalposts, how likely is it that the government has not merely been reviewing call records but also monitoring domestic calls on a wide scale? For that matter, how long will it be before we learn that these records, ostensibly requisitioned as part of the war on terrorism, are being used in the separate wars on drugs, porn, and unlicensed political speech? And given that opinion polls show a majority of Americans are comfortable with this new form of government surveillance, where do we go from here?
The Reason staff is watching this story closely. Jeff Taylor surveyed the danger as the story broke. Jacob Sullum considers Qwest's decision and communications law. David Weigel stands bemused by some of the craziest reactions coming from national security hawks. Nick Gillespie ponders whether this is an example of the slippery slope, the frog in the boiling pot, or something else. Weigel and Gillespie both try to make sense of the public's enthusiasm for total information awareness. Jacob Sullum decries the government's effort to make Qwest knuckle under, and Kerry Howley asks if there might be some money in this dustup.