The latest "scandal-du-jour" that is meant to taint the Obama presidency and/or lead to impeachment hearings shall be known as "the phone tapping scandal". Apparently, the FBI requested that Verizon provide phone call logs for every call its customers make
. Is this oogy? Yes. Did this come from the White House? We don't know. Is this legal? Apparently.
Turning the Wayback machine to 2005, it was revealed that the Bush administration was using the Patriot Act to wiretap all international calls
. Instead of apologizing when this was revealed, he doubled-down and asked for a renewal of the law. A court put a stop to it, but the Republican Congress quickly passed a new law removing the requirement for the NSA to get a warrant
. In 2008 when the new law expired, a new compromise was reached that required warrants, but allowed them to be applied for retroactively. The new bill also granted immunity to telecom companies that complied with the NSA to provide taps without warrants.
The immunity was likely added to protect the companies from lawsuits after it was revealed that AT&T - at the behest of the NSA - had installed a splitter in its San Francisco facility
, and was sending a copy of ALL communications to the NSA. That means all calls - including domestic - and all information, including the audio. It is assumed that the stream of calls was processed by voice recognition software looking for specific words or phrases. So if you used the words "bomb" and "death to America" in a call, it likely got flagged for manual attention.
Just last year, the FISA law was renewed by the Senate for another 5 years
. This allows the NSA to continue to secretly get wiretap approvals from a secret FISA court. So essentially - this is the same ongoing surveillance that we've lived with since "9/11 changed everything".
What's different this time is that the FBI is making the request. The other difference is that they are requesting logs of the calls, NOT wiretaps. In other words, they'll be able to see who you called and when, but won't actually hear what you talked about. One assumes they have some computer algorithm that will comb the call metadata looking for certain patterns that indicate criminal or terroristic behavior, at which point they will likely request a wiretap for that particular individual.
The order covers a 4 month period, expiring next month. It was signed by a judge, thus making it legal. It is not nearly as intrusive as the tactics taken when the Republicans were in charge. Does that mean I approve of it? No, I do not. But then - I have a right to disapprove: I did not vote for the Republicans that put this framework into place.
Anyone who voted for Republicans, though (and Republican politicians in particular) - this is what you voted for. You have no right to criticize.