PORTLAND — A National Security Agency program that collects the phone records of milions of Americans is none too popular on the streets of Portland.
“That’s bull,” said Rich Tompkins, 23, of Portland. “It doesn’t really surprise me, but I’m not happy about it.”
A leaked court order revealed that the NSA has, apparently for years, been collecting the telephone records of Americans from their landline and cellphone providers. The order that was leaked referred only to Verizon, but more recent reports have named other companies, leading to the supposition that court orders have been issued for the records of all American phone companies.
The records reveal only the numbers called. There is no indication, at least in the order that was leaked, that the NSA is tapping the phone calls of ordinary Americans.
The Obama administration has said it only continued a program that began in the Bush administration after 9/11, citing the rationale that by comparing typical phone records with those of known terrorists, security analysts can detect patterns that will help them identify terror cells. It was also said that when a new terrorist is identified, the phone logs allow analysts to search for links with others in their older phone records.
Marie Gaelle, 43, of South Portland, said she understands the need to protect the country from terrorists, but worries that a large domestic surveillance program detracts from what makes America special.
“It’s very troubling,” she said Saturday. “We have privileges and to take our privileges and our private lives away … where is the world going?”
Gaelle said the secrecy is also worrisome and that the government might have found people cooperative if it had been more upfront about what it was doing.
“Let the people know,” she said, and people would be more willing to try to help identify terrorists.
Jarred Martin, 20, of Westbrook, said people should know more about what the government is doing and why.
“I don’t think they’ve ever given us an explanation of why they’re doing it,” he said. “And also, it’s my privacy, definitely.”
Martin said he believes ordering a company to turn over records of people who aren’t suspected of committing any crime violates constitutional protections against illegal searches and seizures.
“It makes Americans feel like we’re just being watched even more,” he said. “If they don’t have a good reason, they should really not be able” to monitor phone records.
Martin noted that his stance is somewhat ironic, given that he will be giving up much of his privacy when he joins the Navy in a week.
Dennis Ricker, 42, who just moved to Portland from New York City a week ago, said he hasn’t been following the story closely, but knows enough to feel uneasy about what the government has been doing.
Seizing the records of millions of people who have done nothing wrong “just seems like a barrier to me,” he said. “I need to know more about the rationale.”
Perry Perkins said he feels like the government needs to be more forthcoming about what it is doing and why, but said he understands the need to try to catch terrorists.
“If it’s one way to catch them ahead of time,” it might be worth it, said Perkins, 50, of Portland. “Our security is not working right now.”
Gunnell Hansen, 77, said she has nothing to fear from her phone records being scrutinized and feels the program provides another level of security for the country.
“I have no problem with all of that,” Hansen, who lives in Portland, said of the revelations about the program. “If they want to listen to me talk to my children, that’s all right.”