USA Today reported earlier that the National Security Administration has collected an enormous volume of phone records from AT&T, Verizon, and Bell South. Only Qwest refused the NSA's request:
With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.
... Qwest declined to participate because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.
Qwest's refusal to participate has left the NSA with a hole in its database. Based in Denver, Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services — primarily long-distance and wireless — to people who live in Qwest's region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.
This is absolutely stunning. The phone companies' disclosure without court orders may be criminal. The NSA's collection of the data is certainly illegal.
I don't care what your political views, do you really want the U.S. government knowing how often you called your mother last month? Do you want some bureaucrat in Maryland figuring out how many links separate you from Kevin Bacon? Or, more to the point, Osama bin Laden? Say you call a restaurant to make reservations frequented by the uncle of the brother-in-law of the daughter of (insert terrorist suspect here)...do you really want someone to make that connection for you?
Do you want your phone company to just give this data over to the government in the first place?
I remember a simpler time when a cop had to go to the U.S. Attorney who had to go to a judge to get permission to get the phone records of a Mafia boss.
Just in case anyone has forgotten: the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. This is the law, and has been so for 215 years. It's time to enforce the law.
Polls open in 179 days and 18 hours.
Update: Anne found that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has an ongoing class-action suit against AT&T stemming from the revelations last November that AT&T had helped the NSA listen in on conversations. I imagine they'll amend the suit to take into account USA Today's allegations.