Should Verizon be blamed for complying with the NSA, and allowing their customers to be spied on?

As has been widely reported today, and originally broken by the UK Guardian newspaper, the National Security Agency obtained a court order in April allowing them to collect the private telephone records of millions of US Verizon customers from April 25 to July 19, without a search warrant or even suspicion of criminal activity.

Note that this information was not released the NSA, who requested the private information, nor by Verizon, the company that actually released it. Nothing was revealed by the government, obviously because their activity is covert in nature, but why was nothing heard from Verizon? In fact, when pressed for comment, they had none. And why is that? Well, actually there’s a good reason. The Guardian reports:

The Guardian approached the National Security Agency, the White House and the Department of Justice for comment in advance of publication on Wednesday. All declined. The agencies were also offered the opportunity to raise specific security concerns regarding the publication of the court order.

The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI’s request for its customers’ records, or the court order itself.

“We decline comment,” said Ed McFadden, a Washington-based Verizon spokesman.

While a court order is pretty serious business, and there would be heavy consequences for violating it, the question still remains, should they refuse to comply? Should they have informed their customers they were being spied on anyway, and that the company had released their confidential information to the government?

If your answer is no, then my next question would be, is Verizon responsible for their own data?

If it were my company, regardless of the consequences, I’d refuse to release the info, and then I’d inform my customers what was done and why. Frankly, if I were a Verizon customer, I would have little trust in my cellular carrier at this point. I’d be cancelling my service and switching to another company. And if I find out that my carrier has done the same thing, most likely I will be switching as well. Then again, if all cellular providers turn out to be accomplices to the federal office of snooping on its own citizens, I’m not sure how prepared I am to begin construction on my own private tin can network.

Answering non-critics

Some already argue that no wrong has been done, because technically what Verizon did was okay by law, and in fact ordered by the force of the US court system. After all, they didn’t release recorded calls (as far as we know), only the metadata like call durations, phone numbers involved, and location information.

Mask concealing identity in a crowd

With the government collecting cellular metadata en masse, is anyone truly anonymous anymore?

Never mind that none of this was even possible fifty years ago, and only the most forward-thinking, power-hungry aristocrats were even thinking about obtaining such power. Why is it the government’s business who you call and when you call them? Are you under criminal investigation? Are you guilty until proven innocent?

Others say with as wide-sweeping of a release as this, the chances of anyone tracking what you personally did are slim to none, but I would answer by pointing to another instance where you are already being tracked with haunting precision. Google. Have you noticed a lot of online ads seem to know what you’ve searched for recently? I looked up a hotel in Washington, D.C. recently, and for the next couple of weeks, ads for that and other area hotels have been popping up on all kinds of websites.

Google corners both ends of the advertising world, a marketing dream come true. You use their search, and advertisers pay to show up in the results as sponsored links. Then, once you reach a webpage, Google serves the ads on the destination site (like the only ads I currently have on Standard Excellence). Not everyone uses Google ads, but they are one of the largest online advertisers, and have a large enough network to be very, very powerful.

The bottom line

By some standards Verizon hasn’t actually done anything wrong, and therefore should not be blamed. However, if you value privacy and if you value a government that doesn’t have the kind of power to know what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, how long you did it for, who you were with, and where you were when you did it, for no reason other than you wanted to call someone, this is a huge, huge problem.

The bottom line is, are YOU okay with it? Are the American people okay with it? I’m pretty sure most Verizon customers are not, and if you don’t want to live under a government run by these people, I suggest you call every one of your representatives, inform your friends, and demand that this sort of thing stop immediately. Then, we never elect anyone who defends such practices again.

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