What’s Wrong With Verizon

WaPo drops a huge headline that, in and of itself, should cause no shock.  “Verizon Says It Turned Over Data Without Court Orders,” is not exactly earth shattering news; given much of the controversy over the Administrations various anti-terrorism tactics that infringe upon the privacy of American citizens, the idea that telecommunications companies are a little to quick to hand over information about their clients is relatively old hat.

Yet, there are some subtleties about the story that are off-putting at the very least.

From January 2005 to September 2007, Verizon provided data to federal authorities on an emergency basis 720 times, it said in the letter. The records included Internet protocol addresses as well as phone data. In that period, Verizon turned over information a total of 94,000 times to federal authorities armed with a subpoena or court order, the letter said. The information was used for a range of criminal investigations, including kidnapping and child-predator cases and counter-terrorism investigations.

The first thing that struck out at me was the sheer volume and the intensity of that volume.  Verizon has divulged the information of hundreds of its clients under emergency conditions that bypassed warrant, and therefore court approval.  Now, this program was sold to the public as something that is integral in fighting terrorism, but here’s the thing.  This administration has long touted its prowess at combatting terrorism, and has time and again boasted the success of its efforts.  If, as they claim, this were true, how is it that the sheer volume of these emergency cases got to be so significant?

720.  Over 90,000.  That does not, to me, sound like a program that is fixing the problem, but instead trying desperately to keep it contained.  Still, I imagine there is someone already out there playing percentage games and saying that this is still, relatively, only a handful of people when you take into account the total population of the United States.

I beg to differ, of course, but for the moment, there is something even more disturbing about the above bit.  This warrantless data mining is not, as the article points out, restricted to anti-terrorism efforts, which is the only case that the administration has ever made.  They have not extended in intent to the American people for this program to be used in the context of domestic crimes, and yet Verizon explains that along with anti-terrorism, information was divulged without warrant in the cases of kidnapping and child-predator cases.

It is, I understand, difficult to make a case for hampering crime fighting efforts in such cases.  If anything, the SCHIP feud has brought forefront to the public consciousness how much more heated a debate can get when children are at stake.  But it is also important to understand the scope and intent of our legal system and why it is supposed to work a certain way.

Our legal system was designed specifically to protect the innocent, to prevent the wrongful imprisonment of our citizenry, and infringements upon this intent threatens the fragment of our community.  We often times mourn the failings of our legal system, and hardliners believe that far too many criminals are set free unjustly, but the alternative poses a nightmare far worse, where authority is granted far too much potential to become the criminal element, first condemning those free of guilt, and following that slippery slope to imprisoning those who are inconvenient.

Child predators and kidnappers are some of the most heinous people that plague our society, and thus being convicted as one or the other carries with it a rightfully heavy punishment and burden.  But it is for that reason that we must take particular care to ensure that when such convictions are administered, they are done with the full prudence of the law for to wrongfully convict would result in the utter shattering of a life.

The two aspects about this that bother me are thusly entwined.  There is a common theme, the idea that to fix a problem, you cast a broad net and employ the bluntest weapons available.  Prudence is abandoned for haste, and quality is traded in for quantity.  But these things, though giving the illusion that something is being done thus we must be safer, they do not fix the problem.

And on top of terrorists and child predators, we find ourselves held hostage by a new enemy; the state. 

One Response to “What’s Wrong With Verizon”

  1. mick says:

    I’m afraid it’s a lot worse than this sounds. Documents released by Joe Nacchio, Qwest’s CEO currently on trial for insider trading, show a level of co-operation between the Bush Admin and ALL the telecom companies so intense that, Glenn Greenwald says, there’s “no separation” between them.

    The cooperation between the various military/intelligence branches of the Federal Government — particularly the Pentagon and the NSA — and the private telecommunications corporations is extraordinary and endless. They really are, in every respect, virtually indistinguishable. The Federal Government has its hands dug deeply into the entire ostensibly “private” telecommunications infrastructure and, in return, the nation’s telecoms are recipients of enormous amounts of revenues by virtue of turning themselves into branches of the Federal Government.

    There simply is no separation between these corporations and the military and intelligence agencies of the Federal Government. They meet and plan and agree so frequently, and at such high levels, that they practically form a consortium. Just in Nacchio’s limited and redacted disclosures, there are descriptions of numerous pre-9/11 meetings between the largest telecoms and multiple Bush national security officials, including Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden and counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke.

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