Video: Post-9/11 protection

By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/11/2006 7:44:09 PM ET 2006-05-11T23:44:09

Since 9/11, Americans have become used to "a new normal" — being tracked in ways visible, like airport screeners, and not so visible, like hidden cameras.

"On school buses, in offices, in parking lots, virtually everywhere we go,” says privacy advocate Robert Ellis Smith, “there is camera surveillance, and either it’s covert, or people have come to accept it"

Almost overnight, Americans have sacrificed privacy for a blanket of security.  There are cameras, ID cards and magnetometers when we travel — and at work.

The government has the right to search library and bookstore records.

It’s all legal under the Patriot Act, signed into law Oct. 21, 2001, by President Bush, who promised, “This government will enforce this law with all the urgency of a nation at war.”

Last November, President Bush confirmed that the government was also eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mails — without warrants.

So, how is Thursday’s report of a National Security Agency database of billions of domestic calls any different?

"It's very troubling,” says Lisa Graves of the American Civil Liberties Union, “because it indicates that the privacy of ordinary Americans, of millions of Americans, have been invaded, when they haven't done anything wrong."

Privacy advocates are asking, what else is the government tracking — medical records?  Purchases on the Internet?

"There is no law that prevents the government from getting that information out of our ATM transactions or our credit transactions,” Smith says, “or any number of commercial things that we do that are now stored in computers."

Until Thursday, most Americans were willing to put up with the intrusions. In March, a majority polled by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal accepted warrantless surveillance.

The question now is whether Thursday's revelations about the domestic call database become just another adjustment to the "new normal" since 9/11.

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