It's the network

Verizon gave the government phone and Internet records on 720 customers. The government wanted more.

Published October 16, 2007 11:20AM (EDT)

What the president says: Defending his warrantless wiretapping program earlier this year, George W. Bush said: "This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America. And I repeat, limited. And it's limited to calls from outside the United States to calls within the United States ... [involving] numbers of known al-Qaida members or affiliates."

What one phone company actually did: As the Washington Post reports this morning, Verizon has told congressional investigators that it has provided customers' phone and Internet records to federal authorities -- without warrants -- 720 times over the past two years.

What else the government tried to get: Verizon says the FBI at times asked it -- again, without warrants -- to turn over not just information about a particular suspect-caller but also information about all of the people that caller called and all of the people those people called.

Verizon says it doesn't have this sort of "two-generation community of interest data," but it's a sorry state of affairs when we have to rely on the data-collection limitations of a private company to protect rights that we thought were covered by the Fourth Amendment. If we're all within seven degrees of Kevin Bacon, how many "generations" of "community of interest data" separate any of us from somebody some FBI agent thinks is "talking to al-Qaida"?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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