New Castle News

Closer Look

June 11, 2013

Our Opinion: News leaks reveal dramatic scope of government data collection

NEW CASTLE — In case you had any doubts, Big Brother is watching.

And listening. And for all we know, smelling and tasting as well.

It was reported last week — and later confirmed — that the National Security Agency has been vacuuming up data on all telephone calls made through Verizon.

Why just Verizon? It turns out that it has been phone calls carried by all service providers since shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks that have been scooped up by the government for analysis. This system, we are assured, works to identify communications between possible terrorists without impeding significantly the privacy of American citizens.

But wait! There’s more! Fresh on the heels of this startling revelation came word that the NSA and FBI have been gathering Internet records as well — everything from emails to instant messaging to video communications.

Again, we are told, this is all in the name of national security, and there’s no reason for Americans to be concerned about it.

In fact, the inference given is that we should be outraged that terrorists now have been tipped off about these highly classified programs. A former government contractor — who has admitted to leaking the information to the Washington Post and a British newspaper — is almost certain to face serious criminal charges over his actions.

Time and again, the message out of Washington regarding these revelations is: Trust us. Our response is: Why should we?

Before we go any further, we must note there is no partisan issue here. This data sweeping originated under the former Bush administration and has continued — and seemingly expanded — under President Obama.

Meanwhile, the scooping up of data related to telephone calls and Internet communications has all been approved by court order, the government insists. And — in accordance with the law — key members of Congress in both parties were notified it has been taking place.

In other words, just go about your business and let Washington worry about these matters.

It might be nice to do that, but we have a few concerns. First and foremost is the sense the next shoe is waiting to drop, along with the one after that. What we now know about the NSA’s eavesdropping endeavors comes courtesy of a leak. In what other ways is government gathering personal data that hasn’t been revealed?

We understand the government needs to take steps to maintain security in the modern era. And keeping tabs on terror suspects through their communications is obviously part of that process.

But when the practices employed so obviously extend beyond credible suspects, we think government needs to be held accountable. More on that tomorrow.

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