Can You Hear Me Now?

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PRISM_logoTalk about strange bedfellows. Since when do you find Glenn Beck, Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh and Al Gore agreeing on anything?

Yet, here they are, opposing the National Security Agency surveillance program, which includes cell phone calls, text messages and PRISM, the email reading service.

Those who support the program would make President Obama’s preferred State of the Union address seating chart easy to put together: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wedged between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

Obviously, the Fourth Amendment — which deals with probable cause and unreasonable search and seizure — is much more complicated than the Second Amendment, which, depending on your political affiliation, allows citizens to carry AR-15s and 100-round magazines, or muskets and a pair of rounded scissors.

I don’t think that people are upset that the NSA (also known as No Such Agency) is catching terrorists through cell phone calls and email. I think it’s the order in which they gather the intelligence.

What we’re used to: Some law enforcement agency comes across some person of interest, or clue to a future terrorist activity, and a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant is issued to search the emails, text messages and phone calls of those involved, in hopes of gathering intelligence to stop an act of terrorism.

What we don’t like: The Federal government’s law enforcement agencies are using intelligence gathered by collecting databases of every phone call, text message and email made or written by everyone. The databases are entered into a sorting program that finds links or anomalies to suspicious people or locations. A FISA warrant is then issued to listen in on the conversations or read the emails to thwart a terrorist act.

It’s A+B=C versus B+A=C. Same result, but a different order in getting there.

We’ve given up some expectation of privacy on the Web since hackers began hacking 15 minutes after the World Wide Web was created on Aug. 6, 1991. The Patriot Act widened the power of FISA, the law enforcement community and intelligence agencies, and made the rest of us more paranoid.

So it confuses me why people are so outraged at the latest charges to the NSA, which has kind of been in its job description all along.

People who still think that their cell phone calls, emails and text messages are being destroyed as soon as we hang up or delete them should ask Milan Federal Correction Institution inmate #44678-039, aka former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, how he feels. The FBI subpoenaed phone company records to get the saved text messages that eventually got him locked up, but they most likely could have gotten them from the NSA all along. Because Kwame didn’t call or email anyone on a terrorist watch list (although many of the people on his contact list are now serving time), the NSA wasn’t interested.

There’s a certain amount of comfort to be taken from the fact that the Feds don’t have the time to read or listen in on the billions of phone calls produced by the millions of email and cell phone customers in the United States. They’re too interested in digging up Jimmy Hoffa’s body. And if their surveillance program worked so well, they could have spotted the Tsarnaev brothers before they reached the Boston Marathon finish line.

So I won’t worry. The NSA can listen in on my weekly calls to Uptown Parthenon for Jimmy salads, and keep a printed record of my daily “I love you” text messages to my wife, if that’s what they really want. And if it keeps our country safe.

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