The Edmond Sun

Opinion

June 18, 2013

Excuses for data sweep sound hollow

CNHI News Service — Perhaps 2013 will go down as the year privacy and civil liberties became too inconvenient for government. Listening to assorted officials defend massive programs that scoop up vast amounts of data certainly gives that impression.

Anyone who believes we can now go back to an earlier era of privacy protection is delusional. This toothpaste is out of the tube.

That’s because there is no real outrage over revelations the National Security Agency has developed the means and authority to access virtually all telephone and computer data that’s out there. We’re told the intelligence agency handles all this power judiciously and prudently.

But then how do you explain Edward Snowden, a low-level employee for a private government contractor who knew all sorts of things and is now in trouble for spilling these national security beans?

If Snowden knows so much, who else does as well? What access do they have? What sort of ability do they have to abuse the power available to them?

All of this ought to be sparking loud demands for explanations. Instead, for the most part, we get mumbled claims of confusion from members of Congress. And among those who supposedly knew what the NSA was doing, we receive interesting rationalization and defense of what ought to be indefensible.

Take Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence committee. He said last week that revelations about NSA programs have caused terror suspects to alter their communications behavior.

That implies the programs have value — until you stop and think about it. Rogers is basically saying the intelligence community already knows who these people are by claiming they are changing how they operate.

If so, why the need to collect so much data on the rest of us?

Repeatedly we are told what’s being gathered does not impede our civil liberties and it’s just to make us safer. But we really don’t know if that’s true.

Last week, Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, told Congress the American people need to know how these programs operate in terms of collecting data.

That’s nonsense, because Alexander heads up the agency that was in charge of keeping all of this quiet. The American people are informed — or at least partially informed — only when concealing the truth is no longer an option.

These programs are essential, we are further assured, because information gleaned has successfully thwarted attacks. At first, we were told one attack was prevented; now it’s dozens.

It sounds impressive, assuming it’s true and assuming there were no more effective means of protecting the nation.

Significantly, some former NSA employees have emerged to say they quit the agency because they objected to the indiscriminate collection of data and lack of respect for civil liberties. Perhaps they are simply disgruntled ex-workers, but at some point, the evidence mounts.

And let’s not forget the NSA is in the process of building a massive new facility that supposedly will be able to examine even greater amounts of data. Abuse is inevitable amid this much power and so little supervision and oversight.

Of course, all of this is done in the name of thwarting terrorists. Lost in this rationalization is the fact the goal of terrorism isn’t violence. Rather, it’s the application of violence in order to alter who we are.

By giving so much unquestioned power to the NSA, the argument could be made that America has given the terrorists what they want.

MITCHEL OLSZAK is a columnist for the New Castle (Pa.) News.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Why poverty across the world matters to Americans

    A child starving in South Sudan should matter to Americans. That was the message delivered last week by Nancy Lindborg, whose job at the U.S. Agency for International Development is to lead a federal bureau spreading democracy and humanitarian assistance across the world.
    That world has reached a critical danger zone, with three high-level crises combining military conflict with humanitarian catastrophes affecting millions of innocents in Syria, the South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
    But back to that child.

    April 18, 2014

  • Government leadership complicit in overfilling prisons

    One of the thorniest problems facing any society is the question of what to do with transgressors. Obviously, the more complicated a culture becomes, the more factors come into play in trying to figure out what to do with those who choose not to “play by the rules.”

    April 18, 2014

  • My best days are ones normal people take for granted

    It is a weekend for working around the house. My fiancee, Erin, and I have the baby’s room to paint and some IKEA furniture to assemble. I roll out of bed early — 10:30 — and get into my wheelchair. Erin is already making coffee in the kitchen.
    “I started the first wall,” she says. “I love that gray.” Erin never bugs me about sleeping late. For a few months after I was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, I often slept 15 hours a day. The doctors said my body needed to heal. It must still be healing because I hardly ever see 8 a.m. anymore.

    April 18, 2014

  • Instead of mothballing Navy ships, give them to our allies

    A bitter debate has raged in the Pentagon for several months about the wisdom of taking the nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington out of service to save money. The Washington, at 24 years old a relatively young vessel, is due for a costly refit, a routine procedure that all of the 11 large carriers in service undergo regularly.

    April 18, 2014

  • The pessimist’s guide to grizzly bears and Earth Day

    This coming Friday, to “celebrate Earth Day,” the Walt Disney Co. will release one of those cutesy, fun-for-all-ages, nature documentaries. “Bears” is about grizzly bears.
    The trailer says, “From DisneyNature comes a story that all parents share. About the love, the joy, the struggle and the strength it takes to raise a family.”
    Talk about your misguided “Hollywood values.” I previously have acknowledged a morbid, unreasonable fear of grizzly bears, stemming from a youth misspent reading grisly grizzly-attack articles in Readers Digest. This fear is only morbid and unreasonable because I live about 1,500 miles from the nearest wild grizzly bear. Still. ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Digging out of the CIA-Senate quagmire

    Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., voted to declassify parts of its report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The White House, the CIA and the Senate still have to negotiate which portions of the report will be redacted before it is made public. But this is an important step in resolving the ugly dispute that has erupted between the intelligence committee and the intelligence agency.
    The dispute presents two very serious questions. Was the program consistent with American values and did it produce valuable intelligence? And is effective congressional oversight of secret activities possible in our democracy?

    April 15, 2014

  • Los Angeles Times: Congress extend jobless benefits again

    How’s this for irony: Having allowed federal unemployment benefits to run out in December, some lawmakers are balking at a bill to renew them retroactively because it might be hard to figure out who should receive them. Congress made this task far harder than it should have been, but the technical challenges aren’t insurmountable. Lawmakers should restore the benefits now and leave them in place until the unemployment rate reaches a more reasonable level.

    April 14, 2014

  • Many nations invested in Israel

    Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yoram Ettinger recently spoke to a gathering at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning in Oklahoma City. The event began with a presentation by Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, who told the attendee that the  upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover was an occasion for them to embrace the children of God, which is all of humanity.

    April 14, 2014

  • Coming soon: More ways to get to know your doctor

    Last week, the federal government released a massive database capable of providing patients with much more information about their doctors.
    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that runs Medicare, is posting on its website detailed information about how many visits and procedures individual health professionals billed the program for in 2012, and how much they were paid.
    This new trove of data, which covers 880,000 health professionals, adds to a growing body of information available to patients who don’t want to leave choosing a doctor to chance. But to put that information to good use, consumers need to be aware of what is available, what’s missing and how to interpret it.

    April 14, 2014

  • HEY HINK: Hateful bullies attempt to muffle free speech

    Hopefully we agree it should be a fundamental right to voice criticism of any religion you wish. And you should have the right to sing the praises of any religion you choose. If criticism of religion is unjust, feel free to make your best argument to prove it. If criticism is just, don’t be afraid to acknowledge and embrace it. If songs of praise are merited, feel free to join in. If not, feel free to ignore them. But no American should participate in curbing free speech just because expression of religious views makes someone uncomfortable.

    April 11, 2014

Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

Agree
Disagree
Undecided
     View Results