Our View: Debate over snooping needed

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:03 PM

Editorial Board

There’s a reason many Americans are concerned to learn that the National Security Agency is gathering our phone records. Then, we learn that the NSA and FBI, via a program called PRISM, is peeking into the servers of nine top U.S. Internet firms, including Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, YouTube, Microsoft, etc.

Security and privacy needs to be balanced. The feds must tell the public more about these controversial measures.

The reason we’re concerned is clear: We’re Americans, and the United States has specific principles that forbid spying on law-abiding persons. Heck, we learned that in school. If readers want more information, read the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

Having said that, the snooping is more ominous in theory than practice. The feds don’t care about what we post on Facebook, or what websites we troll (although it’s interesting to contemplate that Uncle Sam knows about those Net practices some try to hide from others). To go beyond phone records, the feds need approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. Also, there is an argument that in a global war on terror with small-scale, individualistic attacks — such as the Boston bombings — these tactics help locate potential terrorists.

Nevertheless, we have the right to know about this type of snooping. President Barack Obama is correct when we said we need a debate as to what the NSA and FBI is doing. There’s a certain irony in his call last week for discussion and debate, however. The president was keeping this information secret from Americans, as were members of Congress. It amuses us to see faux anger coming from pols who knew this snooping was going on. It was ultimately a whistle-blower who revealed it so we can “discuss and debate” these practices. In fact, we recall with bittersweet nostalgia that then-presidential candidate Obama forcefully opposed this type of snooping in 2007. Now that he’s president, he’s become an eager convert to the practice, and indeed, has expanded it.

If this snooping is now the norm, let the discussion and debate begin.

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