EDWARD Snowden, the man who let it be known that the National Security Agency is tracking our phone calls and online activity, says he did so in hopes of prompting a debate over U.S. security policies. He has certainly succeeded.
Fury over the NSA program has dominated cable news and talk radio since the story broke last week, and aligned left-leaning civil libertarians with right-leaning Americans worried about government overreach. Even The New York Times, which usually finds no fault with Barack Obama's presidency, blasted his administration over this story.
Our guess is the outcry about the NSA has been especially acute because it follows on the heels of reporting about the Internal Revenue Service and its targeting of conservative political groups that sought tax-exempt status. But the cases are different and shouldn't be coupled as a way to “prove” that Big Government is out to get us all.
In the IRS case, government agents decided to make life difficult for particular groups that held worldviews counter to the administration's. That's unconscionable and illegal. What the NSA has been doing is collecting data and then studying it to try to find patterns or trends that might help foil terrorist activity. “They are not in that sense invasions of individual privacy at all,” The Wall Street Journal wrote.
And, there are checks in place. A special court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, on the books since 1978 and amended a number of times since 9/11, is charged with keeping an eye on the process.
Americans are troubled by the government poring over their phone records. But the truth is there is voluminous personal information about all of us that is easily accessible to businesses or groups, which use it for their benefit. It's part of living “on the grid,” and generally we don't think twice about it.