Big Brother is spying on us, and it’s about time we started spying back.
We see that in an amazing statistic brought to us by Congressman Ed Markey: Law enforcement asked cell phone carriers 1.3 million times last year for subscriber information, caller information and other data — 1.3 million requests in one year alone.
Sometimes officials had court authorization for the request, many times they didn’t. Sometimes the request was in an emergency, many times it wasn’t.
And most of the time, the cell carriers complied with these requests, some of which related to many more than one person. Investigators often asked for, and got, a list of all the phone calls routed through a particular cell tower during a certain time.
Just look at the ease with which law enforcement got that kind of data. Even while they asked cell phone carriers for more and more information, officials actually went to court 14 percent fewer times for formal authorization.
Why go to all the trouble of showing probable cause when you can just call up the phone company and get all the records?
Put this together with the conversation we had several weeks ago with three totally credible National Security Agency whistleblowers who said the NSA had been recording literally millions of phone calls without any legal authorization. Law enforcement is feeding out of an open trough of information. Every keystroke, Twitter message and Facebook post is stored and accessible not just to law enforcement, but often to private parties. We have left behind the old world of privacy, and we’ve crossed into a new frontier of unfettered spying.
We need to figure out when government should get information and what legal showing it needs to make.
Now, I’m not much for calling for commissions and special reports — usually that’s a bad way to punt on a hard decision. But this is not an easy balancing act. Sometimes law enforcement needs information immediately to save a life or catch a terrorist.
That’s why the president should appoint some wise, thoughtful folks to look at this issue and propose some crisp and highly protective rules, so we can talk to each other without worrying that Big Brother is listening, taking notes or making a list of who our friends are.
We’ve got to know what they know and how they know it.
That’s “My View.”