The Verizon phone record sweep is ‘nowhere near constitutional’, says ACLU - who could disagree?

This is only the latest erosion of civil liberties from the Obama administration

Share

News that the United States government forced Verizon, a major telecommunications company, to reveal its call records to state intelligence agencies provoked widespread outcry from the American public this week. Yet it is only the latest privacy rights scandal among many to have shaken the US over the past decade or so. Indeed, the core details of the story merely confirm what many had previously suspected, a fact that speaks volumes about the state of American civil liberties in the post 9/11 era.

It is sadly unsurprising that such practices have been taking place on the watch of the present administration, despite the fact that its iconic figurehead openly criticized similar policies enacted by his predecessor. A wide range of bills signed by the President in recent years, including the latest National Defence Authorisation Act, contain provisions that have been interpreted as potentially allowing for a previously unthinkable erosion of the rights of US citizens. This latest development will all but ensure- unless an enormous and entirely improbable U-turn occurs- that the ‘change’ candidate of 2008 leaves a legacy in the field of domestic surveillance that is both deeply unpopular and historically unprecedented.

Alex Abdo, staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organisation committed to defending civil freedoms in the US, told me that in his view it was ‘difficult to overstate how troubling’ the Verizon revelations were. ‘This is the kind of news that would shock even Orwell. We’ve learned that the government is tracking the call records of potentially millions of Americans, without any reason to think that any of them have engaged in any wrongdoing’, he reflected.

‘The tracking of an accumulation of millions of phone records over a long period of time  is precisely the sort of invasion of privacy that the supreme court said in United States versus Jones is governed by the fourth amendment’, Abdo added. When asked if this activity could be considered unconstitutional, his reply was emphatic: "there’s a line between constitutional and unconstitutional surveillance- and this programme is nowhere near this line."

It is almost impossible to disagree with Mr Abdo on any of the points he raised, least of all about the troubling nature of the activities revealed in the news recently. In combination with ongoing warrantless wiretapping programmes and the construction of a gargantuan data storage facility in Bluffdale, Utah it seems the US government is serious about amassing huge amounts of information on its citizen’s digital activities. The potential for the abuse of such practices, undertaken in secret, is overwhelming - and the likelihood of it, as I have argued before, not entirely remote.

Not long ago it emerged that the US government had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a programme intended to detect national security threats that, according to an Associated Press  report, "improperly collected information about innocent Americans and produced little valuable intelligence on terrorism." It did however circulate information "about Ron Paul supporters, the ACLU, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and advocates of gun rights", none of whom were said to be engaging in criminal activity.

The fact that, according to a Wikileaks-released cable, Obama’s state department encouraged its minions to collect personal data including credit card details and DNA samples from foreign officials does not fill one with confidence, either.

All of which should be brought to mind as we once again face the prospect of a snooper’s charter in this country in the wake of the atrocities in Woolwich (which it seems it would not have prevented anyway). Such an extensive programme could allow or pave the way for measures as excessive as those seen in the US- and increase the scope for improper surveillance practices to take place without us knowing anything about it.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in the new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power