The Government Has Your Number

Think your phone calls are protected? Think again.

Every day, companies like AT&T and Verizon hand over records of our phone calls and Internet activity to federal agencies — without telling users anything. And Congress seems intent on squashing any attempt to stop this behavior and protect our privacy.

But there's hope. The FISA Amendments Act ("FAA") — a law that gives the National Security Agency (NSA) the power to monitor our phone calls and online activity without a warrant — is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31.

Some senators want to rush a vote on reauthorization of the FAA without any debate. But other senators — as well as our friends at Demand Progress — are fighting to make sure Americans are protected this time around.

In 2001, the Bush administration launched a secret, illegal spying regime that gave the NSA the power to monitor our phone calls and online activity without a warrant. Thanks to public outcry, the administration suspended this privacy-killing program in 2007.

However, in 2008 Congress passed an outrageous bill — the FISA Amendments Act — that legalized NSA spying with the participation of companies like AT&T and Verizon and gave the agency even more flexibility to harvest our private data.

And now the Senate wants to ram through reauthorization of the FAA for another five years — with no debate.

Here’s where things stand: A bipartisan group of senators, led by Sen. Ron Wyden, has placed a hold on the reauthorization bill. It will likely be reauthorized as is unless the Senate is given a chance to consider changes that would add privacy protections and transparency requirements — and we need to make sure it gets that chance.

Fixing FISA would be a significant victory for our privacy rights. But we don't have a lot of time. We need every senator to urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to slow down the reauthorization vote (more than 30 digital and media rights groups have already urged them to do just that).

This reauthorization bill is too toxic to pass under the dark of night. It gives the NSA almost unchecked power to spy on Americans' international phone calls, emails, Web searches and other online activity.

Please contact your senators right away. Tell them to protect our privacy.

Original photo by Flickr user Nate Steiner

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