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NSA Phone Snooping -- Confirmed!

It was a long, long road that the ACLU-VT started down in 2006 when we first heard that the National Security Agency might be swooping up records of Americans' telephone calls.

We were one of 20 ACLU affiliates around the country to file complaints with public utility commissions, attorneys general, or other officials requesting investigations into whether local telecommunications companies allowed the NSA to spy on their customers.

Our complaint immediately run into a legal roadblock set up by the federal government's Department of Justice -- a state secrets claim. Nothing about the alleged surveillance program, including whether it even existed, could be divulged for national security reasons, the DOJ argued in U.S. District Courts around the country.

The Bush administration and telecommunications companies didn't trust the courts to rule for them. So they went to Congress and asked for immunity from any claims made against them, and that any investigations underway be immediately shut down. They were successful. In the summer of 2008, in a controversial vote, Congress graned the immunity.

We thought we'd never learn for sure if the NSA's phone records surveillance progam existed.

But -- thanks to Edward Snowden -- Vermonters, other Americans, and indeed the whole world now know that the NSA phone surveillanc program did exist, and in fact monitored telephone traffic not just in the United State, but in other parts of the world as well. Documents obtained by Snowden during the time he worked at the NSA showed that even world leaders, such as Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, were targets of NSA phone surveillance.

A young man whose life has been forever altered took on great risk to ferret out the information we had sought to obtain legally in 2006. His revelations have led to some limited surveillance reforms but perhaps more importantly to a heightened sense of people around the world that our governments are watching us.

We've chronicled this story in a number of blog posts. The most recent are these:

We've also retained the documents filed in our original complaint to the Vermont Public Service Board. Reading them now, one gets the sense that our govenment was terribly wrong in keeping information about the surveillance program from its citizens. The program was expensive, ineffective, and cost America a huge loss of respect among other countries on whose support we rely.

We shouldn't have needed Edward Snowden to tell us the truth about what our government was doing.


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