Column Date 2006-05-29

Tap my phone? You must been kidding.

I can’t imagine what the folks at our National Security Agency expect to hear when they tap my phone.

If they listened in yesterday, for instance, they would have heard my wife talking about endangered loggerhead turtles, my oldest son raving about a great non-alcoholic beer, and then U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris (yes, that Katherine Harris, of Florida’s 2000 election fiasco) asking me how I feel about paying $3 for a gallon of gas.

Katherine (actually, her recorded voice) asked me that question as part of a phone poll she’s taking. She’s running for U.S. Senate and seems confused about whether people love or hate gas at $3 a gallon.

Now if there’s any real intelligence out there in the intelligence community, they might learn something from Ms. Harris and take their own poll.

After all, some Americans actually don’t mind if the government monitors who they call, when they call, and how many times they call any number. They don’t even seem to care if government operatives listen in on their most intimate conversations.

Other Americans think this is the biggest threat to our privacy and civil liberties in the last century.

So why doesn’t the National Security Agency take the pulse of America, so to speak, and find out what the “average American” thinks? A call from the NSA might go something like this:

“Good morning. Is this Mr. Tannen?”


“I’m from the National Security Agency. This call may be monitored for quality control.”

“Hang on a minute – you’re the people who illegally eavesdrop on my phone calls, and you have to tell me that someone is monitoring our call right now?”

“Well, yes, sir. I guess you could say that.”

“I just did. How do you feel about someone listening in on our conversation?”

“Actually, sir, it makes me kind of nervous.”

“Me, too. So I guess that you, personally, would not like people to eavesdrop on your conversations.”

“That’s right, sir.”

“Thanks for being honest with me.”

“Uh, I’m supposed to say that, sir. I’ve got it right here in my script.”

“That’s O.K. Look, this is the second call I’ve received today about eavesdropping. You people should really talk to each other.”

“Who was the other one from, sir?”

“I think it was the FBI, or maybe the CIA.”

“Oh. Well, to be honest, sir, I am calling from Bangalore, India, and it takes a while to coordinate calls. We’re all in different times zones, you see.”

“Bangalore! You mean they’ve outsourced the NSA?”

“I can’t comment on that, sir. I can connect you to customer service, if you like.”

“I think it’s time to say goodbye, whoever you are. So goodbye.”

“Goodbye, sir.”

(Muffled voice) “Goodbye.”

Tap my phone?

First, the NSA should have to convince a judge that eavesdropping on phone calls between 298,000,000 Americans won’t bore their people to death.

And then there’s that little matter about unreasonable searches in the 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. We should all read it sometime.

©2006 Peter Tannen