Public deserves explanation on snooping
We soon could know more about the National Security Agency’s monitoring of almost everybody with a phone or an Internet connection. “I’m open to doing a hearing every month if that’s necessary,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee added, “And I’m open to doing an open hearing now.”
She said it was difficult to tell the public the good things that such surveillance has done because, “Here’s the rub, the instances where this has produced good — has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks — is all classified; that’s what’s so hard about this.” She said her committee held a classified hearing June 6, attended by 27 senators, that detailed some of these accomplishments.
Her office told us that another classified hearing would be held today so senators can ask questions of senior officials from the NSA, FBI, the Justice Department and the Director of National Intelligence. There were no plans for an open hearing that the public could watch on video, although Sen. Feinstein said she remained open to the idea.
Here’s one thing that should be discussed, and we wish it were done in a public forum: On March 12, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before the Intelligence Committee and was asked by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper responded, “No, sir.”
The recent revelations conflict with that response. Will the committee hold him accountable?
Understandably, there’s a balance between the government’s efforts to prevent terrorist attacks and the Fourth Amendment “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” In the past, that meant the government had to get a court order to search for specific information from a specific place. Simply grabbing everybody’s information would have been unthinkable.
Feinstein’s office referred us to her past statements maintaining that the current activities are constitutional. She specifically referred to the 1979 U.S. Supreme Court case Smith v. Maryland, which found that, because people must disclose dialed numbers to phone companies, there was no “general expectation that the numbers they dial will remain secret.”
However, 1979 was long before what’s now called “big data” — vast troves of information — could be collected. We believe her committee should hold open hearings to examine both sides of this controversy.
Another point of investigation should be the ease of access that the government has given to this data. According to a Washington Post investigation, about 854,000 people have “Top Secret” security clearances.
One of them was NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Snowden was not employed by the government, but by Booz Allen Hamilton, a private firm contracted by the NSA.
Feinstein’s office told us that she “is working on legislation to reduce the number of contractors and their access to highly classified information.”
It seems that, in addition to abusing our Fourth Amendment rights, such huge data collections may have lessened our security instead of increasing it.
From the Orange County Register
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