Opening Pandora’s Box

FLINT – People were shocked and angry when they learned that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting millions of phone records.

But I doubt it’s going to change. The Patriot Act, signed into law in 2001 in the name of national security, opened Pandora’s Box, and I doubt there’s any closing it now.

I just wonder how intrusive it’s going to get.

For instance, if they know who I call and when, they also know who I don’t call, right? So am I going to get a call someday from an NSA officer saying, “It’s Mother’s Day and we noticed there are no outgoing calls from your phone to floral shops. Are you planning to forget her this year like you did last year?”

That’s all I need – extra guilt.

And what’s going to happen when I order a pizza?

Me: “Hi, I’d like an extra-large with pepperoni and double cheese.”

Pizza clerk: “OK, that’ll be $15.”

Voice: “Um, do you think that’s a good idea?”

Me: “Wait, what? Who is this?”

Voice: “It’s the government, sir. We’re here to help. We noticed that a disturbing number of your evening calls during the past few months have been to pizza joints. Do you think that’s a good idea?”

Me: “I’ve been working late. I haven’t had time to eat dinner with the family.”

Voice: “We’ve seen your cholesterol numbers. Are you sure you wouldn’t like a nice salad instead?”

Me: “No, I don’t want a salad. I want a double-cheese, extra-large with pepperoni.”

Voice: “Fine, do what you want. This is America. But it’s my duty to inform you that we’ll be notifying your health insurance company. Your rates will double before the first glob of grease hits your heart.”

Clerk: “So one salad then?”

Me (dejectedly): “Yes, one salad.”

Voice: “And no ranch dressing, just a little oil and vinegar. Our records indicate he’s five pounds overweight.”

I joke, but this isn’t funny. The Obama administration will say it’s doing what it has to do to combat terrorism. And I think most of us have suspected for a long time now that the government has taken liberties in the past with phone, text and email data when they have a specific suspect in mind.

But if I’m reading the news right, by capturing the records of all Verizon customers (why just them, I can’t figure out – are crooks only Verizon customers?) they’re scooping up all the fish in the sea in the event they someday need to catch one tuna, if you catch my drift.

If so, this is one of those rare instances where the slippery slope might actually apply. Now that they have Verizon’s records, it won’t be long before they have and are analyzing everyone’s phone records, and from there it’s a short step to recording all conversations, emails and texts.

I’m sure some people will say, “Well, if you don’t have anything to hide, then you don’t have anything to worry about.” But what about those who do? This could get sticky for them.

Man: “Darling, I love you.”

Woman: “I love you, too. I always have.”

Man: “I want you, I must have you.”

Voice: “We hate to interrupt but aren’t each of you married to other people?”

Man: “Um, I “

Woman: “Er uh.”

Voice: “We thought so. You’ll be happy to know that we’ve notified your respective spouses. Have a good evening.”

If I were you, I’d start practicing the old rule of never saying or writing anything you wouldn’t be comfortable with your mother reading or hearing.

Which reminds me: Sorry about Mother’s Day, mom. I’ll do better next year.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.