National Security Agency (NSA)
In recent times, there has been considerable discussion and controversy of the NSA remarkable, and pervasive collection of data on private U.S. citizens. It is understandable how this happened, but allowed to go unchecked, without any meaningful safeguards, and a common-sense balance of national security versus protection of the freedom and rights of everyday citizens, there lurks a poison whose cure is worse than the disease.
After the horrific attack on our country, which occurred on September 11, 2001, by an elusive enemy with, no defined geographical boarders of its own, the challenge was; What do we do? How do we do it? What is the urgency of our reaction? And, How do we protect ourselves from more attacks? Extreme circumstances called for extreme measures. It was not a time to form a study group or committee, it was a time to act and act quickly. With this mind-set, the Patriot Act was created and with the urgency of the times was signed into law by President George Bush on October 11, 2001, only one month after the attack. Please note, that it was later extended by President Barack Obama. The Patriot Act provided a broad range of power for domestic investigators to track the communication between potential terrorists and to aid in the collection of evidence for verification of such activities, and provided authority to monitor private meetings, telephone conversations, and to exploit electronic communications including voice mails and emails. Authority for physical surveillance was also included. Please further note, that the mission of NSA also includes the function of a cryptologic intelligence agency of the U.S. Department of Defense and is responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence as well as protecting U.S. government communications and information systems, which involves cryptoanalysis and cryptography.
With the advent of the Patriot Act and the new powers it conferred to NSA, the danger was that although this authority was to be used to target known terrorists and potential terrorists. Who is a potential terrorist? Might be anyone -- therefore the authority extended to everyone, including innocent parties and their privacy rights, who might unknowingly have had some contact or interaction with a terrorist or terrorist suspect. As a result, and with the exuberance of their expanded authority and the urgency to protect our nation, the data collection efforts grew and grew, and soon the term mega-data became more appropriate to refer to the large, gargantuan amount of raw data that was been collected, virtually, on every citizen in the United States.
It was not too long ago that the treasonous acts of an individual exposed the nature and extent of the NSA data collection. The media frenzy quickly brought the issue to national attention. The result was that changes were proposed and backed by both Republicans and Democrats to rein in the National Security Agency and create a new balance between anti-terrorist efforts and the privacy rights of United States citizens.
What is my position? I endorse finding a balance between the actions and authority of NSA and the rights and privacy of U.S. citizens. I believe in the “due process of law” whose origins are in the U.S. Constitution. Given the many abuses of government authority, and I’m specifically thinking of my personal experiences, I am concerned about crafting the laws and authority to attain the proper balance; and I am worried about government “integrity” to faithfully apply the laws and authority. I believe that there must be authoritative, independent oversight of NSA activities. Without proper oversight, and with the possibility of unchecked resumption of mega-data collection efforts, other elements in the government might make nefarious use of the data. This could potentially create an environment in the government or by individuals in the government, becoming “mind police” over private citizens who “think the wrong way” and make anti-government disparaging comments within the privacy of their own home, behind closed doors – “Big Brother” is watching you. In a fictional book written by George Orwell, called Nineteen Eight-Four, the term “Big Brother is used to refer to any ruler or government that invades the privacy of its citizens. Good Grief!!! Who would have ever believed that this might be possible?