Editorial: NSA reform, fallen by the wayside


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It is said the true art of war is information. This has most certainly been true with U.S. intelligence gathering, in the name of safety, which has been collected in bulk by the NSA, CIA, and other agencies. What isn’t often realized is the harrowing danger this sort of surveillance puts our democracy through.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” said Benjamin Franklin in 1755.

Though its meaning has been disputed, there is an inherent truth to the correlation between war (in all its forms) and government power. When that power becomes overreach is up to a democracy to decide, at least in theory, before the era of the Internet.

War creates federal power out of necessity, and every war for the past 200 years has expanded that power, sometimes drastically. From the Civil War through the war on terror, aspects of the economy, interpersonal relationships, information technology, and executive powers that sidestep the constitution have come into being.

Our generation faces the Patriot Act and other bills granting massive power with vague terminology. These bills have acted like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that authorized the Vietnam War, but with more power. It provides any U.S. president nearly unlimited power in foreign and domestic “wars.”

The words “war,” “terrorism,” and “Al Queda associates” can become complicated, and it is in this obscurity that the executive office seizes power. Since the 9/11 attacks, executive power has grown at the expense of personal freedom and privacy.

This expansion reached a flash point last year when Edward Snowden revealed a cache of documents detailing secret data-collection programs created under the authorization of the Patriot Act. After countless congressional hearings and subsequent revelations on the true extent of our surveillance state, the extreme public backlash to the programs led elected officials on both sides of the aisle to denounce the surveillance and promise reform.

But when the time came to follow through on those promises, lawmakers fell short.

The Senate did not find enough votes to bring to floor the “Freedom Act” on Tuesday evening. The bill was crafted by the White House to curtail U.S. intelligence agencies’ practices of carpet surveillance. The legislation was blocked mainly by Republicans, with some saying it went too far and tied the United States’ hands in fighting ISIS, and some, such as Rand Paul, saying it didn’t go far enough in curtailing the NSA.

Amid the new threat from ISIS, it may be more difficult to garner support for such a measure. The curious disconnect in ideals for a Republican majority in D.C. is their lack of clamor over security programs, which have led to massive invasions of privacy for Americans and the world. That is big government overreach at its finest, and it threatens to divide the GOP’s neoconservative and libertarian wings.

It is time to draw the line between security and liberty. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that support for a bill that limits civil liberties will have to come from citizens and that active awareness and opposition to the infringement of civil liberties is not only a necessity but also a responsibility.

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