Thus begins the highly popular CBS series ”Person of Interest.” “You are being watched. The government has a secret system — a machine that spies on you every hour of every day.”
If you haven’t caught the show, you should.
It has aired for three years, so its prescient intro came long before the disclosures of massive government snooping by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. I like the show. I don’t like Snowden. Self-serving media and civil libertarians have managed to market Snowden as a whistleblowing hero and champion of civil liberties and not the narcissistic traitor he actually is.
The argument that he has done the country a service by exposing the inner workings of the NSA so we could have a public debate over how espionage tactics, surveillance parameters, data mining and cyber techniques impact privacy without giving away the store to the bad guys is preposterous. Counterterrorism experts have stated that al Qaeda, as well as belligerent foreign governments, already have changed tactics as a result of Snowden’s rash and delusional actions — and that it will take years, even decades, to recover. This is tantamount to insisting in 1944 the public had a right to know whether we were going to invade France at Normandy or the Pas-de-Calais.
Although NSA prying involves a complex array of components, the one that’s getting the most attention in the courts is the bulk collection of telephony metadata — numbers dialed and duration of calls, but not content. What we have to say on our phone is a whole other matter and remains shielded under Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” without warrants issued “upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
President Barack Obama’s intelligence advisory panel specifically stated no abuses of Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights have occurred. What’s more, these activities have been upheld by the Supreme Court in Smith v. Maryland, albeit a much narrower case, and are overseen by the Justice Department and congressional intelligence committees.
NSA officials contend that individual numbers are only accessed about 400 times a year, and always with appropriate warrants; and that this is the only way to find the terrorist communications’ needle in the billions of calls’ haystack.
Sure, gut reaction to Snowden’s continuing flow of leaks regarding government surveillance is bound to be negative. Who wants to think he is not lord of his domain? But really, just how is the government collection of your phone metadata actually impacting your life? Americans need to get over this paranoid emotional tantrum and acknowledge there are nasty people out there wanting to do us harm.
We need to take every measure possible right up to the very edge of constitutional guarantees to keep this country safe, and the president’s restrained reforms appear to be an excellent balance between security and privacy.
Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.