ACLU Massive Database Versus NSA Massive Database
It’s an amusing point and related to one that I made this morning in my initial post on the controversy: “Sure, I trust mega-corporations who sell my private information to telemarketers with this information. But a government agency that collects and analyzes signals intelligence? I dunno.”
Indeed, these records already existed, separately, at the phone companies which turned them over to the NSA. Lots of companies and organizations maintain databases on their customers for legitimate operational reasons (as with the phone companies in this case) or by obtaining them from third parties for exploitation. As I implied in the quoted passage above, I have more confidence in the professionalism of the NSA in safeguarding my privacy than I do these companies.
That said, these are entirely different matters legally. While Orin Kerr argues persuasively that no laws were violated (Glenn Greenwald is less sure) and I think the operation makes plenty of sense, potential abuse of power by the state is more problematic than same by private entities simply because of their relative power. That’s why, for example, the government has to prove its burden beyond reasonable doubt in criminal cases but private parties are only held to a preponderance of the evidence standard in civil cases.