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Libertarians to Obama: Can You Hear Me Now?

“1 billion”

-- Average number of Verizon Wireless calls connected each day, according to company data.

Last night, liberal House Democrats were agonizing over their doomed effort to help President Obama’s effort to import several dozen foreign inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prisoner of war camp in Cuba.

Obama’s effort to bring the foreign fighters into the U.S. justice system is a non-starter owing to bipartisan opposition. While some opponents are worried about the legal ramifications and damage to U.S. intelligence gathering, all of them are worried about the possibility of having Islamist militants held or tried in their districts.

While Democratic civil libertarians were bemoaning the lack of American-style justice for foreign nationals captured on the battlefield, liberal London newspaper The Guardian let loose what may be the most damning leak yet about the Democratic president’s safeguarding of his fellow citizens’ rights.

First reported there and then subsequently confirmed by a lack of denial and background confirmations, the Obama administration has been mining the data of America’s largest wireless provider, Verizon, which boasts some 115 million mobile subscribers. The feds also seem to have been combing through phone records of the company’s 14 million landlines, mostly in the Mid-Atlantic region. But the massive cell network is the real data trove for federal agents.

The revelation would be startling whenever it leaked, evidencing as it does the largest, broadest effort so far to spy on the communications of Americans. Not just international calls. Not just calls to targeted numbers. All of the calls, all of the time.

Officials assure in background briefings that no conversations are actually recorded and the government supercomputers are only looking for suspicious patterns in order to seek a more targeted search warrant.

Recall the small furor last year when it was revealed that the National Security Agency had, it said, unintentionally intercepted too many phone calls. This huge warrant is perhaps in response to that problem. By seeking information on every call, agents might be more able to set their computers to intercept only the calls they want.

But the warrant also reportedly included a gag order that forbade Verizon from telling its customers that their calls were being tracked by the government. The administration got a judge to compel Verizon to secretly surrender the data. Does the government have similar arrangements with AT&T and the rest of the big carriers? What about emails? What about texts? What about online searches?

As American’s trust and confidence in their government drops lower and lower, it is not a good time to discover a massive, secret domestic surveillance program.

While Verizon’s lawyers were able to try to protect the company’s interests, there has been no advocate for the rights of the individuals unknowingly being monitored. The little people who make up “big data” didn’t know and, but for the leak, never would have. How much more of what Americans do on the phone and online is being monitored?

While it's understandable that specific search warrants would be kept secret in order to avoid tipping off targets, when the target is everyone in the country one supposes that the government ought to say something.

What we already know about the Obama administration’s record on the civil liberties of American citizens makes the old liberal complaints about Bush abuses sound quaint.

And that’s why the timing of this revelation makes the leak thermonuclear as we discuss the targeting of the president’s political enemies by the IRS and the targeting of reporters by the Department of Justice in overbroad, overaggressive leak investigations.

One supposes that Eric Holder’s plumbers wish they could charge the guys and gals at the Guardian with something today. They’re not likely, though, to find a judge in London so obliging as the one in Washington who let them hack James Rosen’s Gmail.

As American’s trust and confidence in their government drops lower and lower, it is not a good time to discover a massive, secret domestic surveillance program. As Obama tries to get off of the defensive concerning abuses of power by members of his administration, this is totally toxic.

Government agents used data mining to harass conservative groups and target employers and now we find that Obama’s “big data” is far bigger than we ever knew before.

Republicans are already limbering up their “what if Bush had…” reflexes. But it seems to be time to retire that one on this subject. If Republicans oppose these policies, they should oppose them in their own right not just ruefully point to the double standard of media coverage.

It’s time for the GOP to stop pointing backwards to Bush and prepare for their new, and largely unexpected role as defenders of civil liberties in the bewildering world of Obama’s “big data” government.

It’s a role in which they might not be entirely comfortable, but the young voters who will make or break the party’s future are looking for an advocate having discovered that Obama, once thought to be their rescuer, isn’t on their side.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Loyalty to the president is good, but loyalty, truth and integrity to the country is better.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.