Across the nation on Independence Day last week, concerned citizens took to the streets in more than 80 cities -- including Denver -- to protest recently disclosed government surveillance tactics.
The breadth of the data being collected on ordinary citizens, allegedly justified by the Patriot Act and the the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), is both unnerving and of dubious legality. And yet until recently, most of us had no idea, for example, that the government collected the phone records of millions of Americans.
This sort of indiscriminate data mining by intelligence agencies raises both privacy and constitutional issues.
So we hope the demonstrations add to the pressure on the Obama administration not only to explain its spying activities, but to disclose legal opinions it believes give officials the power to collect so much information on individuals not suspected of commiting crimes.
Oh, and it would be nice if they stopped misleading the public about what they're up to, too. Administration officials have twice in recent months provided erroneous information to Congress about the scope of domestic spying.
We believe a rewrite of federal law may be in order to curtail spying power apparently ceded to the executive branch. It appears that rapidly evolving technology has given the government the capability to collect much more data than what was anticipated when today's legal framework was put in place.
The irony is that the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was created by 1978 legislation, was supposed to protect civil liberties and provide a check to executive authority. But it may be that the non-adversarial, closed forum under FISA provides more of a rubber stamp than a true check on the executive branch.
Colorado's Sen. Mark Udall has been dogged in his efforts to call attention to the issue. As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Udall knows things he cannot speak of publicly, but has worked the angles to highlight problems.
Recently, Udall called out the National Security Agency for posting a "fact sheet" that he said contained false information about its spying program. It was subsequently pulled from the agency website.
And last week a letter was released in which National Intelligence Director James Clapper admitted he provided "clearly erroneous" information in testimony to Congress about the scope of the NSA's data collection. He called it a mistake.
Clapper has been bobbing and weaving since a Senate hearing in March at which he denied that the NSA collected data on millions of Americans.
He may call it a mistake, but it looks an awful lot like a lie.
Slowly, a picture is coming into focus of a government that has taken liberties with our liberty under the guise of keeping the nation safe from terrorists.
It is time for a conversation about whether the government's legal authority to spy on its own citizens should be ratcheted back.
The Denver Post, July 8