Bell’s Blues: Phone Home

“What the intelligence community is doing,” Mr. Obama told the crowd at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, “is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls.”

And I say it’s about time!

The Guardian broke the news on D-Day that the National Security Agency is collecting your phone records and those of millions of other Verizon customers. The order requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

This came on the heels of the demands for phone records from the AP and Fox News. The blogosphere erupted. The pundits erupted. The ACLU erupted. Fox News went ballistic.

We all need a calming breath.

I wrote about the problem back in 1997 but I knew about it in the 1970s. Everyone in New Jersey did then.

In New Jersey, Ma Bell charged “message units” for local calls. Here in New England, they changed the name to “measured service.” In phone company parlance, either name counts each instant of local phone use. Then they bill us.

Who counts those minutes? The electric company puts their meters where we can see them. When I pump gasoline into my car, the readout tells me how much in thousandths of gallons. I’ve always wondered why I need that kind of precision.

The phone companies have always hidden the counters.

It’s worse now.

According to the Pew Research Center, “91% of the adult population now owns some kind of cell phone … [and] 56% of all American adults are now smartphone adopters.”

Cell phones pay by the minute. Data users pay by the mini-bit.

Are you on a 300-minute plan? Maybe a 1,700-minute family plan?

Who counts how many minutes you use or how long the movie was? You? I didn’t think so.

All that data is available under FOIA. And that is the basis for a really really good lawsuit against these phone companies.

“Nobody’s spying on you,” Mr. Obama said, “we’re just monitoring your phone usage.”

Thank goodness for that. After all, it takes a crook to catch a crook.