Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 27, 2013

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NSA revelations prompt deeper scrutiny

Suppose we granted police the power to conduct regular searches of all homes, businesses and facilities.

They could also randomly stop and search pedestrians and vehicles. Just imagine all the illegal activity that could be identified or thwarted.

But we don’t allow police to do these sorts of things. Instead, they are obliged to obtain warrants, based on the notion of probable cause before engaging in any such searches.

This concept is so fundamental to the American idea of freedom that it’s enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The 4th Amendment was created specifically to protect individuals from such unreasonable searches and seizures.

How, then, do we explain all the revelations related to the massive data collection being conducted by the National Security Administration?

After months of defense from the Obama administration and leading members of Congress, public support for the NSA and its activities are starting to crumble. ... (A) federal judge blasted the agency’s collection of phone records as “Orwellian,” declaring the efforts unconstitutional.

And a task force set up by President Obama in response to public criticisms of NSA conduct recommended sweeping changes designed to limit the information-gathering power of this agency.

The NSA defends everything it has done - and continues to do - in the name of national security and the need to protect Americans from terrorism. Obviously, these are concerns.

But also of concern is the NSA’s power to vacuum up astonishing amounts of information related to the activities of average people. We’re not talking about spies and terrorists here; we’re talking about everyone.

And the data collection is being conducted by an agency that operates in the dark. Defenders of the NSA argue it is overseen by a federal court, but that court also operates in secret and the information it receives is distinctively one sided.

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