|

Editorial: Scale back the surveillance state

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 10, 2013 5:00 AM

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

According to classified documents leaked to The Guardian, a UK-based newspaper, the highly secretive National Security Agency has been collecting a remarkable amount of information about American citizens, including phone records and online data.

The paper printed a leaked order on June 5 from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court that required the telecommunications company Verizon to provide the NSA with the phone records of millions of Americans. In addition to phone records, the NSA has also collected online data from the servers of a number of technology companies, including Google, Apple, and Facebook. This program, called Prism, gives the federal government access to a wide variety of data, including personal emails and Internet browsing histories.

The NSA’s mass collection of the data of American citizens represents dangerous federal overreach and demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Obama administration’s surveillance policies.   The program in question may be legal under provisions passed by Congress to fight terrorism. A 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act gives the government the ability to collect electronic data about individuals outside the United States. This law, which was renewed in 2012, also requires intelligence agencies to minimize the amount of data they collect and store about American citizens.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement last week in which he insisted that the NSA has internal procedures that prevent the data of Americans from being used illegally. Despite the program’s possible legality, the NSA’s secret data collection still bears the patina of scandal. But in contrast to the other political scandals of the past few months, President Obama’s Republican critics have been conspicuously quiet since this story broke.

Indeed, perhaps the most unnerving aspect of these recent revelations is the bipartisan consensus in Washington that has apparently formed around the necessity of spying on American citizens. In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration institutionalized a culture of domestic information gathering, a culture that came to be associated with a neoconservative foreign policy. President Obama, during his first campaign, was deeply critical of the Bush-era surveillance state. He was unwilling then to accept the idea that the security ends justified such invasive means.

“As for our common defense,” he said in his 2009 inaugural address, “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” But Obama was quick to abandon the ideal of personal privacy when he got to the White House. Despite his early opposition to the national-security excesses of the Bush administration, Obama has carried on the former president’s legacy of domestic prying, which now enjoys support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Today, when journalists ask about the necessity of these surveillance programs, they get the same line from both sides of the aisle: “We pry to keep you safe from terrorism.” That’s true, but it is not the case that safety concerns always outweigh privacy concerns.

There is, of course, a tension between privacy and safety that the government and its people must keep in a mutually accepted balance. The sacrifice of some personal freedom is the price we civilians pay for collective security. That’s the cost of living in a society. In exchange, the conventional arrangement requires that the government remain on the right side of the line between watchful protector and voyeur.

Obama promised to end the voyeurism of the Bush administration, but since his election, he has contributed to the steady encroachment of procedurally opaque government surveillance into our interpersonal communications. We understand the necessity of some intelligence-gathering tools, but call logs and an extensive database of online behavior are beyond the pale.

The Bush-Obama surveillance state must be scaled back.


In today's issue:





 
Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.