Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Debate Over Massive Surveillance Continues

We live in what's called an open society, which of course means, they open our emails, open our phone records, and open our medical records...Leno

  • Americans appear to be conflicted regarding the revelations that NSA uses mass surveillance on Americans. For example, in the most recent USA Today/Pew polling, by 48-47%, Americans are divided over whether they approve or disapprove of the programs as part of the effort to fight terrorism. By 49-44%, they say the release of classified information serves rather than harms the public interest. More interesting is the response from those 18-29 years of age---60% of those say the leaks serve the public interest. My theory on this is that this generation has never really known privacy. In fact, those 65 and older, just 36% say the leaks serve the public.(In a sidebar piece of news, Campus Reform is reporting that some students at George Mason University have a petition out asking the Obama administration to spy on Fox News).
  • Today, NSA representatives are testifying to Congress. They've reported that NSA's operations have thwarted at least 50 terrorist attempts, some targeting New York City again.
  • Unlike the IRS and DOJ's targeting of specific individuals and groups for purely political reasons, it's clear the NSA plays a vital role in protecting the homeland from terrorism. But I believe, because of the nature of bureaucrats to abuse any system (as we've seen in just the last several months), the NSA needs to make assurances that this type of surveillance is not abused. After all, we've all become familiar with NSA's operations because their operations were leaked by Snowden (although most Americans have known our intelligence agencies have been using surveillance for decades).
  • Many questions still need to be answered without jeopardizing national security. For example, how long does NSA maintain their surveillance records?  How extensive is the surveillance? How is the mass surveillance legally justified? (we know there are 4th Amendment concerns. Just last week, the ACLU announced plans to file a lawsuit over the NSA revelations. "The program...represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy," said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU's deputy legal director).  Someone should also ask the NSA officials whether a narrower surveillance program be just as effective as a massive one?
  • These questions need answers because, as I wrote in my piece yesterday, trust in this administration's stewardship regarding this issue is not high among most Americans. We've seen this with the reports last month of the DOJ's wiretapping of some news reporters. And we've still not had a full accounting of the issues regarding the Benghazi scandal. In addition, there have been reports that NSA staff have eavesdropped on Americans. In 2008, ABC reported on NSA staff listening into phone calls of our troops overseas. However, we also have to be careful not to automatically blame the employees of the NSA for everything that goes wrong. Intelligence agencies don't operate the way Hollywood would make you believe they do.  As Ralph Peters wrote recently, most don't sit around all day and think of ways of harming Americans. Most are patriots. We have to keep that in mind throughout this debate.
  • Secrecy to ensure our national security is necessary. Even our Founding Fathers recognized this when they allowed for closed congressional proceedings regarding issues of national security. On the other hand, because we are a democratic republic, a national debate is always appropriate and should be welcomed.
  • Last week, Gen. Keith Alexander, NSA director, said, "Everything depends on trust...We do not see a trade-off between security and liberty." I would say to the director: you need to convince us of that.