New Castle News

Closer Look

June 12, 2013

Our Opinion: Government’s seizing records a threat to liberty

NEW CASTLE — America’s director of national intelligence had a ready explanation this week regarding the need to seize everyone’s phone records.

“Well, you have to start someplace,” James Clapper told NBC News.

Let’s stop and think about that for a moment. Clapper is implying the United States’ national security apparatus is flailing about blindly, and it needs to scoop up the telephone and computer records of everyone in order to identify possible terror suspects.

For this system to have even a remote chance of uncovering a credible threat, imagine the sort of computer programming the government would need to sift through the information. And what happens to people who make the wrong call or write the wrong things in an email?

In short, how much effort is government employing on long shots when there are undoubtedly more substantive terrorist concerns out there?

And amid all of this data mining, intelligence officials, members of the Obama administration and key members of Congress all insist the privacy of individual Americans is not at risk.

How then, does one take the comments of Edward Snowden?

Snowden is the former low-level private contractor who leaked the first word of the government’s collection of such records. He claims he had the ability to monitor the computer activities of any individual. All he needed was an email address.

For a program to be so sensitive and so secure, how does someone like Snowden get access to it? The jury still may be out on whether he is a civil liberties hero or a saboteur, but his knowledge of what the government was doing speaks volumes about the program’s security.

Defenders of the National Security Agency’s actions routinely stress that legal procedures were followed through all of this. Members of Congress were duly notified, but when Clapper was directly asked about such activities by one U.S. senator who was apparently out of the loop, Clapper denied it.

And let’s look at the court approval used to seize massive amounts of citizen data. The FISA court, as it’s called, holds secret proceedings to review such requests.

Little is known about the operations of the FISA court, except that it almost always approves government requests to gather records.

This is because the rules the court operates under are far different than those normally employed in the U.S. justice system. In particular, no probable cause is required, meaning the government gets what it wants.

There is so much about the NSA’s data gathering program that remains unknown. But it’s obvious to us that effective oversight of its actions are virtually non-existent.

While the nation’s intelligence system needs to be vigilant against terrorism and other threats, some lines need to be drawn to protect the privacy of average individuals.

Make no mistake, the power of government to scoop up all this information is a threat to liberty.

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