Archived Story

Editorial: It’s about time for a data diet

Published 9:08am Wednesday, February 19, 2014

As the Edward Snowden secret-theft scandal continues to unwind it should simultaneously become more obvious that the government cannot be trusted with anyone’s personal information.

The obvious follow-up point is that the federal government’s intensive efforts to monitor e-mails, phone calls, text messages — even game console data — should stop immediately.

In the name of security, the NSA and other agencies have built — and continue to add to — a vast trove of private communications and personal data.

Having these data is supposedly essential to national security — although the country somehow plugged along just fine for hundreds of years before digital technology made it possible to monitor almost every message.

Whether it is necessary to gather these data, neither federal or state governments have the ability to protect the privacy of those whose lives they have tapped into.

When one government employee can download untold quantities of secret data by the simple expedient of borrowing a co-worker’s password, something is seriously amiss. When unauthorized state and local employees routinely tap into supposedly confidential driver’s license databases for their own ends — as has happened in Minnesota — something is seriously amiss.

The answer is not in protecting these data better. That corrects only half of the problem.

The answer — the only answer — is for the government to collect less data about its citizens.

While it is no doubt convenient for officials to have access to nearly every corner of everyone’s life, it is not truly necessary. It’s time to trim back all government data gathering programs, because it has been conclusively demonstrated that the government cannot responsibly manage that data.