Herald Journal Columns
June 5, 2006, Herald Journal

Since when are numbers private?

By ROZ KOHLS

Leftists have been howling over the data mining of phone numbers the National Security Agency has been doing to identify who is a threat to our country. The leftists make it sound as if there are agents wearing headsets in shadowy rooms and listening in on our phone conversations with grandma.

That’s not what is happening, folks.

It’s also not a new development since 9/11.

In 1979, the Supreme Court held that only the content of the telephone conversation is private, not the phone usage information. Phone usage information includes names of the subscribers, numbers of the phones making and receiving calls, and the time and length of calls.

Telephone companies keep records of phone usage for billing and marketing purposes, as well as to help answer questions users have about their bills. Phone usage records are not protected by the Fourth Amendment. The government has been using them for criminal investigations for decades.

The process also collected phone usage records on more people than those targeted for investigation and it has not been held unconstitutional.

The phone usage records have the names of the users deleted and a computer, not a person, is analyzing the data for patterns. If the computer logs a number that has been called by a known al-Qaeda operative, the number can be traced. These are the telephone numbers that are being investigated.

The purpose of the data mining is not to confirm al-Qaeda suspects, but to find those who are al-Qaeda that we don’t know about yet. The NSA can’t “connect dots” if it doesn’t know where the dots are.

The NSA is acting within the law. No one’s privacy is being violated. Credit card companies use the same method to catch fraudulent use of credit cards.

Leftists know enough about computer technology to understand how data mining works. Why, in this case, are they pretending to be ignorant?


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