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Editorial: A blow against NSA surveillance

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 08, 2015 5:00 AM

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A federal appeals court has ruled that NSA spying on American phone calls is illegal. The provision of the USA Patriot Act allowing the collection of phone records is deemed as an overreach that exceeds the bounds of what was originally intended for the law that was signed in 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

Intended to deter terrorists in the wake of the tragedy, the surveillance program has since developed into a massive data collection. Collecting phone records in bulk from American citizens unknowingly is unconstitutional and puts our democracy in peril.

A government for the people, by the people, is hypocrisy if civil liberties are infringed. And especially to the broad extent of monitoring millions of phone calls, it’s beyond worrisome.

There’s an argument to be made for increased security to protect our country from terrorism. Investigation into isolated incidents with probable cause is well within the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution. The court’s decision to strike down the surveillance program doesn’t remove the ability for the NSA to perform duties assigned to it — it simply removes its supererogatory ability to unnecessarily spy on U.S. citizens without due process.

Our current times put us at a precipice in the history of technology. The ability to acquire private information is as easy as it has ever been. Modern technology has made it possible to access people’s private lives without effort. What people expected of privacy in 1950 seems grandiose and overly conservative compared with what people expect today.

Despite how things have changed socially, this ruling by the appeals court signals that the government does not get to take advantage of constituents’ privacy just because it’s now easy to do so.

As ISIS and other terrorist groups grow bigger and stronger, the case to be made for protecting personal privacy and liberties from the NSA will be even harder, particularly with recent attempted domestic terror attacks and an online threat released by ISIS that claims the group has members placed in 15 states, ready to attack.

But the ruthless extraction of metadata from millions of Americans, including not just phone calls, but also financial records, emails, and even medical histories, is not justified by these threats.  There are ways to conduct surveillance and terrorist investigations without burdening the innocent.

The Age of Information has brought us to a point of unlimited possibilities in data collection. It’s crucial to draw a line line between security and Orwellian spy techniques. There’s a balance that can be made between protecting the country from terrorism and protecting the U.S. people from their own government.


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