New Castle News

December 20, 2013

Our Opinion: NSA revelations prompt deeper scrutiny

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Suppose we granted police the power to conduct regular searches of all homes, businesses and facilities.

They could also randomly stop and search pedestrians and vehicles. Just imagine all the illegal activity that could be identified or thwarted.

But we don’t allow police to do these sorts of things. Instead, they are obliged to obtain warrants, based on the notion of probable cause before engaging in any such searches.

This concept is so fundamental to the American idea of freedom that it’s enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The 4th Amendment was created specifically to protect individuals from such unreasonable searches and seizures.

How, then, do we explain all the revelations related to the massive data collection being conducted by the National Security Administration?

After months of defense from the Obama administration and leading members of Congress, public support for the NSA and its activities are starting to crumble. This week, a federal judge blasted the agency’s collection of phone records as “Orwellian,” declaring the efforts unconstitutional.

And a task force set up by President Obama in response to public criticisms of NSA conduct recommended sweeping changes designed to limit the information-gathering power of this agency.

The NSA defends everything it has done — and continues to do — in the name of national security and the need to protect Americans from terrorism. Obviously, these are concerns.

But also of concern is the NSA’s power to vacuum up astonishing amounts of information related to the activities of average people. We’re not talking about spies and terrorists here; we’re talking about everyone.

And the data collection is being conducted by an agency that operates in the dark. Defenders of the NSA argue it is overseen by a federal court, but that court also operates in secret and the information it receives is distinctively one sided.

What is the NSA collecting? Based upon what’s been revealed so far, just about everything. Phone records, emails, online viewing habits and even web-based gaming records are swept up by the NSA.

Virtually every form of communication is collected by the agency, based on the idea that terrorist could be using all manner of forums for their plots.

But with this same argument, America could do away with the 4th Amendment. Every building, every car, every pocket could be a source of illegal activity.

The Bill of Rights exists because the founders were worried about government becoming too powerful. And those concerns existed without knowing about the vast data collection methods that exist today.

America needs a serious — and open — discussion about the power of agencies intended to protect the nation. We should not lose sight of the fact they, too, can become threats.