I wrote previously about how the excessive secrecy surrounding the NSA’s collection and analysis of domestic phone records leaves the press and the public to engage in a sort of Kremlinology. This morning, to take one example, NPR correspondent Larry Abramson spoke about how journalists try to parse the lawyerly statements by BellSouth and Verizon denying their involvement in the program (contrary to the original report in USA Today), but end up unsure what to believe.
While everyone asks about whether or not these companies cooperated with the NSA, and to what extent, I have another question. What about all the other providers of telephone service? USA Today did not even mention the millions of consumers who get phone service from cable, wireless, or VoIP instead of the land lines provided by big Baby Bell-descended phone companies. Is the NSA getting those other phone records (or some of them) too?
Neither potential answer is especially appealing. If yes, then the degree of surveillance, and the number of private companies that compliantly participated in a surveillance program of questionable validity, is much greater than previously reported. If no, then the effectiveness of any resulting social network analysis is even more doubtful because it leaves out significant numbers of users. We may never know — leaving us to speculate which bad answer we would prefer.