In its response to the uproar over the NSA surveillance programs having deep access to telephone metadata and the databases of most major online services, the government message seems to fall along the following lines:
It’s not like this is new, we’ve been doing this for seven years.
Everyone should just calm down and understand this isn’t anything that is brand new.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-NV)
This isn’t a surprise, key members of the judiciary and house panels in both the House and Senate were fully briefed on the program and repeatedly authorized it.
This was widely debated on the floor when the section of the code was discussed. It was widely debated in the Intelligence Committee when we considered the business records section. So this is simply, it’s renewed every three months, they must go into court, and this is that renewal.
It’s not like this wasn’t approved and subject to oversight by a judge in a secret courtroom.
All information that is acquired under this program is subject to strict, court-imposed restrictions on review and handling. The court only allows the data to be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization. Only specially cleared counterterrorism personnel specifically trained in the court-approved procedures may even access the records.
It’s not like we’re recording your actual phone calls, just where you were, what number you called, when you called, and the length of time you talked.
This type of thing is authorized by the Patriot Act, so it’s all perfectly legal.
Both parties and all three branches—judicial, legislative and executive—were involved in the approval of this program.*
In summary, what you’ve got is two programs that were originally authorized by Congress; have been repeatedly authorized by Congress; bipartisan majorities have approved them; Congress is continually briefed on how these are conducted; there are a whole range of safeguards involved; and federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout.
What doesn’t seem to be clear to our lawmakers is that we know all this, and we’re mad anyway. I’ll note briefly that this is the same government that couldn’t get their act together enough to avoid budget sequestration.
As the President said today:
“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience … We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”
I couldn’t agree with this statement more. It just seems like the choices weren’t actually made by the society as a whole, but by a few individuals (elected and appointed) behind tightly closed doors. I personally would draw the line in a very different place than they have.
I have a feeling we’re now about to have a very public debate over where that line should be, whether the government wants it or not. Call me naive, but I think the citizens of this fine republic are mature enough to have this debate out in the open.
All our government asks is that we trust them. Do we? If not, are we willing to find and elect people that we do trust in their place?