Revelations about the internal activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) show an entity that, under the mandate of protecting Americans from terrorism, violated the privacy of citizens.
A report prepared for President Obama by five specialists in legal and intelligence issues included dozens of recommendations to change the way that information is collected from the population.
The goal is to strike a balance between internal security priorities that arose from the bloody terrorist attacks of 9/11 and existing constitutional protections, in order to prevent excessive governmental zeal from infringing on individual rights.
This is a necessary debate that was unleashed by the leaks from intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. At least in this aspect, the secret information revealed served to rethink with a cool head measures adopted in the heat of 9/11, like the Patriot Act.
An example of the excess is the fact that the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain various pieces of information, like phone calls, that are “relevant to an authorized investigation.” In reality, the NSA requested and received a court’s authorization to obtain the same data, only because it could be useful to a future investigation. There is a big difference between one and the other.
Congress is working on a bipartisan bill to correct the Patriot Act. We think that the panel’s recommendations should also be taken into account especially regarding supervision from Congress, FISA courts and data storage.
Terrorism’s biggest victory is making a democratic society curtail its freedoms because of fear of an attack. Now is the time to revise the laws and regulations that govern the NSA.