NORMAN — The disclosure of widespread surveillance of Americans’ phone records and of Internet data on foreigners and some Americans has created strange bedfellows among critics and defenders.
On one side, many conservative critics of the Obama administration as well as many of his supporters say the mining of phone call data is a vital tool in finding patterns of possible terrorist activity that can be more deeply investigated.
On the other side, many of the administration’s critics and many Obama supporters are abhorred by a secret program that so broadly and deeply collects private citizens’ information.
The revelation that the National Security Agency collects virtually all phone communications brings a public debate about the Bush and Obama administrations’ disregard for individual freedoms in pursuit of its security aims. And it should prompt a revisit of the Patriot Act.
The Bush administration abused the powers by conducting wiretaps without warrants. The NSA program overseen by Obama at least has some court oversight — but that oversight is from a secret court with the public and most of Congress unable to know what criteria are used to grant domestic surveillance.
The revelations raise fresh concerns about Obama’s handling of privacy and personal freedom issues, coming on the heels of disclosures that his administration has searched Associated Press journalists’ calling records and the emails of a Fox television reporter.
President Obama argues the routine collection of data on Americans is defensible because terrorists are a real threat. Americans, he says, should trust that the government uses internal controls to ensure rights are not violated.
Some members of Congress have long sounded the alarm about how the Patriot Act has been interpreted and used by the government. Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado wrote Attorney General Eric Holder last year saying most Americans “would be stunned” to learn the details of how the secret courts have interpreted the Patriot Act.
For a president who campaigned for more transparency and more attention to privacy rights, Obama’s lack of transparency and disregard for individual freedom are disappointing. The public and Congress need to take the lead in ensuring Americans can be confident their private lives are not unduly intruded on by their government.
— The Mankato, Minn., Free Press