This past week, controversy raged over the revelation that under the guise of “foreign surveillance,” the Defense Department is obtaining information about every telephone call in America. As if that weren’t enough, DoD also is collecting information on e-mails, videos, stored data, log-ins, etc., from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube, AOL and Skype. Congressman Alan Grayson took to the airwaves to condemn that invasion of our privacy, and that trampling on the Fourth Amendment, in this interview on national TV:
Thom Hartmann: In the best of the rest of the news, yesterday the House Committee on Rules blocked an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have drastically cut back the NSA’s ability to collect data on American citizens. An amendment was proposed by Congressman Alan Grayson from Florida. It would have prohibited the Defense Department from collecting information on U.S. citizens without probable cause of a terrorism or criminal offense. Congressman Grayson’s amendment, of course, comes on the heels of reports that the National Security Agency [NSA] has been secretly collecting the telephone records and internet information of U.S. citizens. So while the House Rules Committee may have rejected the Congressman’s amendment, what else can be done now to stop the national security state from invading the privacy of U.S. citizens? Joining me now for more on that is Congressman Alan Grayson, representing Florida’s 9th district. Congressman, welcome.
Congressman Alan Grayson: Thank you.
Thom: Or welcome back. First of all, I’m rather astounded by the Rules Committee knocking down your amendment, which seems like it echoes the Fourth Amendment.
Alan: Well the Rules Committee consists of nine Republicans and four Democrats[, so I’m not surprised by that action]. But I think that there are Members of Congress even now who aren’t aware of the severity of this problem. It’s been a week since we learned that every single call that Verizon carries – Verizon being the largest cell phone carrier in the United States — every single call has call details – who is calling whom, when they’re talking, how long they’re talking – and that’s all given to the Department of Defense. Every single call. Not only that, but there’s no reason to think that if Verizon’s doing this, that AT&T is not doing it. So we have to assume that every call that we make in America – even local calls, even calls to your grandmother – all those calls are being handed over to the government, in terms of the call details. In addition to that, the PowerPoint presentation internal to the NSA that was also leaked, at the same time, indicates that the NSA, according to that information, can pull from AOL servers, from Microsoft servers, from Google servers, from virtually every single Internet provider in the country, information that hosts e-mails, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol, which is basically the contents of telephone calls), and a whole host of other information that people regard as personal. Now, that’s where we are right now. I think many Members of Congress are not aware of that. I think many members of your audience were not aware of the fact that the government’s getting information on every single call they make. Now the question is, “What do we do about it?” The Rules Committee decided to do nothing. The Republicans outnumber the Democrats nine to four on the Rules Committee, so that doesn’t surprise me.
Thom: But the Fourth Amendment is pretty unambiguous. I mean basically we’re supposed to be secure in our persons, papers, home, property, unless somebody goes before a judge and swears under oath that they have reason to believe – you know, probable cause to believe – that a crime is being committed. Then the judge issues a very specific warrant defining the place and things to be seized, or persons to be – you know I’m badly paraphrasing the Fourth Amendment, but you know it. How is it that this is partisan?
Alan: Well, what [the NSA is] relying on is a decision from something like thirty or forty years ago that indicated that “pen register” information, the calling record of one person, could be released without any Fourth Amendment violation by the government, because [the court] said that pen register information was not something that the Fourth Amendment constrained. Now, what they’ve decided is that because they could do it to one person, they can do it to every person. The document that was leaked, the court order that was leaked, is in fact a court order to Verizon that claims to be based upon applicable law. It happens to be signed by a right-wing judge who also declared that Obamacare was unconstitutional. But leaving that aside, what the agency is doing is it’s purporting to rely upon this ancient string of irrelevant legal applications, in order to spy on every one of us.
Thom: I just said, “How could this be partisan?” You were talking about the Republicans on the committee blocking this. You’re basically bringing the Fourth Amendment into this. And yet it’s a democratic administration that’s doing it. The NSA is part of the Department of Defense, which is part of the Obama Administration. Are you hearing anything from the Obama Administration that they might be having second thoughts about what they’re doing?
Alan: Well, the NSA, DoD, and other figures are part of the Administration [defending this]. Not the President himself, though, yet. Other figures have launched a vigorous defense of this practice, saying there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Department of Defense getting telephone records about every single human being in America. Bear in mind that we’ve had a law going back to the 1870s, called the Posse Comitatus Act, that prevents DoD from having any operations in the United States. Now it turns out that DoD is getting all records of all of our telephone calls, and yet somehow that’s defensible. You’re right — this shouldn’t be a partisan issue at all, because we have Republicans who are getting their telephone records turned over, Democrats, everyone. And therefore everyone should be up in arms. We had over 10,000 people go to our website [to support] our bill [to end this]. The website is MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com. Ten thousand people came to the website, and became citizen co-sponsors of my bill, in the first 24 hours. Eventually, sooner or later, we’re going to see that bill heard.
Thom: That’s marvelous. MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com is the website. Congressman, we have just about a minute left. I’m curious, your thoughts on where we’re going to go from here? What’s next?
Alan: What’s next is for people who respect privacy, people who respect liberty, people who respect freedom, to state, clearly, that we don’t protect our freedom by giving it away. There has to be a constant, consistent effort. There certainly will be on my part. I hope there’ll be the same [effort] on the part of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others, to make sure that we put an end to this pernicious practice, and protect our cherished freedom.
Thom: But how do you respond to people who say, “But oh, I’m so afraid of terrorists”?
Alan: Oh look, you know. If somebody can explain to me how tapping your phone will prevent terrorism, Thom, then at that point I’ll start to be convinced.
Thom: Ok, I got it, and totally agree with you. Once again, the website was –
Thom: MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com. Congressman Alan Grayson, great work.
Alan: Thank you.
Thom: Thank you so much for being with us today.
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Every breath you take
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Every single day
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- The Police, “Every Breath You Take" (1983).