Editorial: Be outraged with the lack of outrage over surveillance

Published 9:52 am Friday, July 5, 2013

When it comes to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, the first question Americans should be asking — after where is he? — is this:

Would you really rather not know that your federal government could well be breaking its own laws through unprecedented surveillance that includes monitoring domestic phone records and examining personal electronic data?

Unfortunately, too many people are looking past that question and getting hung up on this one: Edward Snowden — traitor or whistle-blower?

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That’s troubling on many levels.

First and foremost, the pressing issue here is not holding Snowden accountable. Rather, it’s demanding our “we, the people” government stop using secret programs and secret courts to essentially spy on “we, the people.”

Yet almost a month after we found out the National Security Agency monitored emails and required some phone providers to turn over all domestic call details — who calls, who answers, when and where — rank-and-file Americans are unsettlingly silent.

This nation should be outraged. The post-9/11 Patriot Act revisions were grievous enough. To learn about this level of surveillance almost 12 years later, and under a president who vowed transparency and openness, is unconscionable.

Even worse is that President Barack Obama’s camp is content with what’s happened, pointing out secret courts approved them and claiming these tactics helped prevent terrorist attacks.

The White House must prove those claims plus share how many millions of innocent Americans had their privacy violated for no legitimate reason by these operations.

Instead, though, secrecy proponents are effectively distracting the nation by focusing on Snowden, who is under investigation by the Justice Department for disclosure of classified information. He fled the country after leaking details about the programs to international media. Snowden said he learned of them through his work for Booz Allen Hamilton, a private firm well-known for contracting with the government to run its security matters.

Again, whether Snowden is a whistle-blower or a traitor is not a pressing question. In fact, it can’t even be adequately answered until his legal process plays out — something likely to take years.

The more urgent matter is getting the government to strike a better balance between protecting our civil liberties and protecting national security.

Allowing secret programs to track phone calls and electronic communications on an unknown and unprecedented basis is hardly the right balance.

Unless, of course, freedom-loving Americans no longer care about “we, the people.”

— St. Cloud Times, July 1