Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Defending the NSA

The outrage over the collection of Verizon client data by the National Security Agency is dangerously misplaced. 
In the abstract, it’s reasonable that this activity gives American’s an uneasy feeling.  Nobody should accept government programs that track our every move and listen to our private conversations without probable cause and a warrant. 
Luckily, that’s not happening (at least not that we’re aware of - who knows with this administration). 
The NSA has conceded that it has a huge database with billions of phone call records (only numbers and the duration of calls) and a computer program that sifts through this information looking for very specific patterns or relationships.
This is not a policing or “Big Brother” activity; this is a national security activity with the sole purpose of saving American lives.  The NSA is not worried about building admissible evidence to convict the local pot dealer or even nab a big time white collar criminal; they are focused on preventing the next terrorist attack.  We agree with President Obama when he said "In the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother . . . but when you actually look at the details, I think we've struck the right balance."
In the real world, we have to make real choices, and simple questions should settle this debate.
Is your right to keep your phone records between you and your phone provider more important than our ability to prevent terrorist attacks?  What if this type of intelligence could have prevented  9/11?  How would you explain to a 6 year old who just lost her parents in a terrorist attack that your desire to keep your phone records private was more important than protecting her parents?  Are your pious views regarding the balance between liberty and security more important than the lives of her parents?         
Remember, we’re just talking about phone records – a bunch of numbers on a sheet.  We’re not talking about listening in on conversations or advocating for increased security and surveillance.  We absolutely need constraints on the government’s power, and from what we know, those constraints have held firm.  This program has a very narrow objective – stop terrorist attacks.  If you’re not planning terrorist attack, then you should have absolutely no fear that the government cares about your phone calls.  They don’t.  99.999999% of the time, a phone number will get logged and never get a second glance.   Do we really think the NSA and its relatively light budget has the time, manpower, or desire to listen in to Joe Public’s phone call to his mom?
Spare us the “slippery slope” arguments.  They’re lazy, irrational and unproductive. 
Until such a time that an individual can prove that their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness has been unreasonably limited because their phone number shows up alongside of billions of other NSA data points, we support the NSA’s efforts.   
The IRS scandal and even the AP/Fox News scandal are much worse, both in their chilling effects on liberty, and on their potential illegality.  As far as we’re aware, the NSA has followed every legal construct and has obtained these records in accordance with the law of the land.  One can argue that the law should be different, but based on the above we would disagree.  Knee-jerk responses to the NSA’s necessary efforts to keep us safe is nothing more than populist theatre and ultimately damages our national security. 


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