Government 'spying' on my Verizon phone? Who cares?June 6, 2013: 12:04 PM ET
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul R. La Monica. Other than Time Warner, the parent of CNNMoney, Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie, La Monica does not own positions in any individual stocks.
I called my mother yesterday from my cell phone at 1:07 p.m. ET. The conversation lasted for five minutes.
I have nothing to hide. I'm not a terrorist. I'm not Avon Barksdale from "The Wire." I'm not having an extramarital affair.
Don't get me wrong. I'm as distrustful of Washington, D.C., as the next guy or gal. But I honestly don't have that many concerns about the fact that the government may have access to my phone records. And if you simply use your landline (what's that?) or cell phone to call family, friends or work colleagues, neither should you.
There have been some pretty hyperbolic (and all too predictable) outcries following this story, which was first reported by British newspaper the Guardian.
The government is spying on us! This is outrageous! Privacy is dead! It's another example of George Orwell's Big Brother running amok, which I guess is somewhat fitting since we're either at or approaching the 64th anniversary of the publication of "1984." (The History Channel says it was June 6, 1949 but Wikipedia claims it is June 8. Hmm.)
But those are extreme overreactions.
Does anyone honestly think that the NSA has an army of people (in this age of the sequester no less!) in the bowels of its headquarters in Fort Meade, Md, combing through every single Verizon customer's call history? What's more, it does not appear -- from the court order posted on the Guardian site -- as if the government is collecting anything more than just records of calls. The content is apparently off limits. So it seems fairly innocuous to me.
And the "spying" also appears to be limited to just phone calls. No texts, e-mails, social media posts or other modern forms of communication that many people use instead of talking on the phone.
Finally, the whole notion that this is a huge invasion of privacy just makes me laugh. Privacy is pretty much an illusion these days anyway. More often than not, we actively cast concerns of privacy aside in favor of self-expression.
We live in a world where many Americans willingly share intricate details of their lives on Facebook (FB), Twitter and other social media sites. Many people who complain about invasion of privacy need to look in the mirror first. If you really want privacy, don't take a photo of your breakfast and put it up on Instagram ... or worse, a video of you eating it on Vine.
There is also a lot of information out there about every one of us that is sold on a daily basis to marketing firms so that big businesses can come up with hyper-targeted advertising campaigns. Talk about a lack of privacy. If I buy a set of kitchen knives at Williams-Sonoma (WSM) with my credit card, I can probably expect a deluge of mail order catalogs from Crate and Barrel and Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) in the not-so-distant future.
Yes, this looks bad for the government. Anytime something is done secretly, people get angry. And let's be honest here. If the government is asking Verizon for phone records, you'd have to think there could be similar court orders out there to AT&T (T), Sprint (S) and T-Mobile (TMUS) too. In all likelihood, most U.S. phone accounts are being tracked, if not necessarily tapped.
Investors don't seem to care about this story either. Shares of all four phone companies were higher Thursday.
Maybe I'm being naive, but if the NSA really is doing this for national security reasons, is this the worst thing in the world?
Sure, there's the slippery slope argument. If the government can easily see who I'm talking to, then what will they do next?
Still, I'm willing to live with the fact that some Carrie Mathison-esque spook has a paper trail showing when I called my wife and brother if it helps prevent another Boston bombing or another 9/11.