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Jack Simpson: National security for our own good?

Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson

New laws have been passed since 9/11 and new security measures put in place to enable the United States to fight terrorism. Passage of the Patriot Act gave the government greater access to telephone and computer exchanges.

If officials felt there was a terrorist threat, a court order was sought and, with congressional approval, records were searched. New security measures appeared at airports and technology in many fields helped law enforcement protect the public.

Some of what was done we did not know the details about until very recently. The National Security Agency has been checking everyone's telephone records and emails. They say the reason they are doing this is to protect us from another 9/11 attack. I own a cellphone, so naturally I'm interested in the news. Others are also interested for Fourth Amendment reasons.

Years ago, I got one of those basic cellphones to use in case of an emergency. It isn't fancy, not at all state-of-the-art. I cannot text, check the Internet, or take pictures. No, I cannot watch movies. My phone stays "off" unless I need it for an emergency, or calling home. I like it that way.

Actually, should the National Security folks zero in on my phone, they would be bored out of their minds. My life is an open book and I have nothing to hide. I consider myself a patriotic, loyal World War II veteran. There are many people just like me.

Hearing the latest news and the extent of government snooping, I am disappointed to find my privacy invaded. If I had been advised and knew the government wanted to check my phone, I would have granted permission. Why not? If checking my phone and emails would help prevent another 9/11, then I'm all for it.

President Barack Obama did not think snooping in this way was a big deal. He said members of Congress were briefed back in 2006. He assured us his administration is "transparent," even if his methods bring this claim into question. He says the war on terrorism is receding! If so, why this massive program? At public forums, I do not recall hearing any representatives mention this monitoring. Republican Rep. Aaron Schock denies knowing anything about this program. What he knew he learned about in the newspapers. Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, is surprised enough to mount a Supreme Court challenge to the government's logging of America's cellphones and Internet activities. Paul does not buy President Obama's argument that this monitoring is a modest invasion of privacy designed to keep us safe from terrorists. President Obama does not believe America can have 100 percent security and privacy as well. It is another reason to give up some freedom.

So what do you think? Is Big Brother snooping for our own good? Or is he bending the rules and politically abusing the monitoring? Whistleblower Edward Snowden apparently believes the public should have input on such a widespread monitoring program. He is on the move, hiding out probably in Hong Kong or China and threatening release of more confidential information. The Department of Justice is preparing charges against Snowden. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and House Speaker John Boehner believe Snowden is a traitor who committed an act of treason and should be prosecuted. They feel his actions put people at risk. Snowden says all he wants to do is "inform the public," not to betray the United States. Other observers see Snowden as an immature egocentric who felt he did an admirable thing by exposing the monitoring program.

Congress wants a continuation of the program but wants to hold hearings. Perhaps they want to find out how a private contractor like Snowden was given access to such a large collection of domestic phone and Internet data. Perhaps during the hearings, Congress can enlighten Director James Clapper of the Division of National Intelligence. When Clapper appeared before Congress, he had no knowledge about this program! If the director didn't know, maybe we should not be surprised to find the public uninformed about the monitoring. Maybe the reason really was national security, huh?

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.