Opinion
              FILE - In this June 12, 2013 file photo, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, commander, U.S. Cyber Command and director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Service testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.  Alexander will testify during a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday, June 18th.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
              FILE - In this June 12, 2013 file photo, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, commander, U.S. Cyber Command and director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Service testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Alexander will testify during a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday, June 18th. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)   

Five unpersuasive reasons to support NSA surveillance

Photo of Gayle Trotter
Gayle Trotter
Lawyer

Who do we love, Snowden or Obama? Just like in the “Twilight” vampire-romance series, Americans are trying to decide which hero should go home with Lady Liberty. Choose your vampire carefully.

Snowden, the shadowy former Booz Allen Hamilton employee who leaked information about government snooping programs, alleges that he and his fellow agents had authority to wiretap anyone.

Obama, for his part, insists that the secretive program is “transparent,” explaining, “That’s why we set up the FISA court.” Does Obama know what the word “transparent” even means? Or does he intend the term to induce mass hypnosis to avoid public scrutiny of the NSA’s data-mining programs?

Obama further proposes that he “set up and structure a national conversation” about the program. So nice of him to offer, but the conversation is well underway already.

NSA Director Keith Alexander told Congress that the agency’s programs have thwarted 50 attacks, at least 10 of which targeted the United States. But rest assured, Obama told Charlie Rose, your “emails are not being read by some Big Brother somewhere.”

Still, the American public remains in the dark about the details of the NSA programs. Five of the key arguments supporting the NSA programs are enough to give us pause.

(1) “We can trust the federal government.”

In reality, the federal government has overdrawn its trust account with the American people. Despite hollow assurances of adequate checks and balances on the NSA program, recent examples have shown the opposite. Those in the trust-me corner tell us that all three branches of government have approved the programs. Oh, that’s a relief: Is that the same three-branch approval that gave us Obamacare?

They assure us that the intelligence-gathering community is apolitical. Just like the apolitical IRS, which operated as a brazenly partisan organ in the 2012 elections.

They tell us the first job of government is to provide for the common defense. True enough, but that abstraction does not resolve how we evaluate specific cases or how to balance privacy and security.

How many citizens have lost their privacy, and by how much? How many misuses were made of the information? How many actual threats have we thwarted? What’s the right trade-off?

Speaking of trade-offs, whatever happened to Obama’s high-minded promise that, “as for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” or that “we will not give them up for expedience’s sake”? We’ll just chalk that up to Inauguration Day rhetoric.

(2) “Bush did it, so it must be OK.”

NSA supporters argue that conservatives somehow have no right to challenge a program begun under a Republican president. “What amuses me,” Obama said, “is now folks on the right who were fine when it was a Republican president but now Obama’s coming in with a black helicopter.” What amuses me is the president’s public admission that his high-minded Inauguration Day rhetoric long ago gave way to expedience. Besides which, many critics on both sides of the aisle have always questioned the legitimacy of these practices.