The disclosure in USA Today that the federal government is creating an enormous – and until now, secret – database record of domestic phone calls made by tens of millions of Americans raises red flags for the civil liberties of American citizens and the need for strict congressional oversight, said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way.
“Millions of Americans must have been shocked when they read the paper this morning. This administration already has the power to look at your library, financial and medical records, and monitor your Internet use without your knowledge. They believe they can tap your overseas phone calls without your knowledge or the approval of a court. Now we find out that the government is building a massive, secret database that tracks the patterns of domestic phone calls – a program in which at least one phone company refused to cooperate,” said Neas.
“This is eerily reminiscent of the failed ‘Total Information Awareness’ program the Pentagon tried in 2002. At the urging of civil liberties advocates, Congress stopped that program in 2003. We need the same vigorous oversight now.
“We can destroy the terrorists without shredding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Our system of checks and balances allows us to take every legal action possible to stop terrorists, but we must not surrender our most cherished freedoms in the process. The American people must demand strict congressional and judicial oversight to prevent the invasion of personal privacy, and make sure that the enormous sums being spent on these programs are truly adding to our national security.
“Most important, we need our President and his Administration to respect the rule of law, and trust the American people and their elected representatives to understand what is necessary to stop terrorism, and what is an unconscionable infringement on the rights and freedoms that are the birthright of every American.”
People For the American Way Foundation is suing the NSA for refusing to release its records on the warrantless wiretapping of overseas phone calls under the Freedom of Information Act, and has created a web site, www.FOIArequest.org, where individual Americans can seek records from the FBI to find out whether their phone calls have been part of the surveillance. PFAW Foundation’s legal team is considering further FOIA requests and legal action based on today’s disclosures.