Drawing the Line on Government Surveillance

Posted on July 10, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

By James Scott

snowdenPresident Obama pretty well summed it up last month when he said: “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.”

The question is, where do you draw the line between keeping Americans safe while at the same time protecting their civil liberties and privacy.

Of course, we’re talking here about Edward Snowden, the 30-year-old former National Security Agency contractor who is on the run after laying bare some of the government’s top-secret intelligence gathering techniques.

Snowden famously leaked documents to the Guardian and The Washington Post about NSA surveillance programs, including the collection of phone records and online communications. Among the targeted platforms, we learned, were widely popular Web services like Google, Facebook and Skype.

This was met with outrage from privacy advocates, who noted that it’s not just the bad guys, but everyone who came under scrutiny by the government. And this would seem to go against everything American.

But spying and keeping secrets is American too, and Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, defended the programs saying they have helped to thwart dozens of terrorist attacks and that law-abiding Americans have nothing to fear.

While we are troubled by the massive size of the operation, which trapped records of millions and millions of phone calls, emails and other communications, counterterrorism personnel can’t keep Americans safe if they are stripped of the tools they need to keep up with the terrorists.

There’s got to be a way to make the data collection a bit more targeted. Just because the government has the capacity to monitor everything, it doesn’t mean it has to. If it has the technology to watch so much stuff at one time, it also has the technology to filter down the monitoring to focus more on communication that might have actual value in tracking terrorists.

While Snowden claims to be some kind of self-styled freedom fighter, he is hardly innocent in this affair. After all, he betrayed the vows he took when he was granted a government security clearance, tipped terrorists off to U.S. communications monitoring capabilities and may well have put lives at risk.

As he continues to elude authorities in search of a country to grant him asylum, Snowden is no hero.

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at www.turnergpa.com.



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2 Responses to “Drawing the Line on Government Surveillance”

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It all depends on whether you trust the government with the information. I don’t. Obama has shown multiple times that he will make end runs around the Congress and issue fiat rulings.
On the local level, my township is a dictatorship that tries to crush all criticism and dissent. If the government of West Orange NJ took over the federal government, we would be in bigger trouble than we already are.

the tradition is well established: one person arrogates to him/herself the judgment that a greater wrong is exposed by doing a wrongful thing. We can imagine both sides: surveillance could have stopped 9/11 even despite the incompetence of that Administration; that invasions of privacy could yield wrongful investigations or prosecutions of innocent people. Snowden’s disclosures come as little surprise to most of us- for most a mere affirmation, that there is no reason to expect privacy in any communication over any public access portal. The disclosure requires a sacrifice- the leaker is a criminal and history or circumstances will judge the relative merits of the related wrongs. It is the nature of the act that it must be prosecuted. We might all benefit from the disclosures but we definitely are harmed by the short term impact- enemies emboldened, detections made more difficult. It takes courage to do what he did– as he will soon realize if not already- popular support cannot guarantee exculpation. That is the razor’s edge, the steep price of one man’s convictions…hdm

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