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Where have you gone, Benjamin Franklin?

Yesterday, as you may have heard, USA Today (of all places) broke [this story](http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20060511/1a_secretstory11_dom.art.htm):

> The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
>
> The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime.

“Wow,” I thought, “now they’ve really done it. Now they’ve gone too far. Now we’ll see some real outrage.”

Today, reading the front page of the [Washington Post](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/12/AR2006051200375_pf.html), I learn that once again I have overestimated my fellow citizens:

> A majority of Americans initially support a controversial National Security Agency program to collect information on telephone calls made in the United States in an effort to identify and investigate potential terrorist threats, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
>
> The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it.
>
> A slightly larger majority–66 percent–said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made, the poll found.
>
> Underlying those views is the belief that the need to investigate terrorism outweighs privacy concerns. According to the poll, 65 percent of those interviewed said it was more important to investigate potential terrorist threats “even if it intrudes on privacy.”

Look, folks, privacy is not actually the issue here. (Although shouldn’t you be concerned that your government has access to a list of every phone number you’ve ever dialed?) It’s actually _against the law_ (e.g. the Telecommunications Act of 1934) for phone companies to release this kind of information without a court order. And the government can’t just invoke “national security” as an excuse to bypass the law. (Didn’t we go through all this in the 1950s?)

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

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