Guest Editorial: Not a fair way to share data

The Orange County Register
March 15
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American citizens’ eyes were opened by the awesome power, reach and constitutional violations of the surveillance activities carried out by the National Security Agency and other government agencies, as revealed by the documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013. Lately, we have discovered that the Obama administration is drawing up rules that will allow the NSA to share raw surveillance data with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other intelligence agencies without first applying any privacy protections.

The NSA is supposed to focus bulk collection of phone calls, emails, text messages and other correspondences on international communications, but Americans may be swept up if an international call or message is to, from or about them. When such information is shared with other agencies, the NSA is supposed to first strip out Americans’ identifying information. Allowing agencies such as the FBI access to “pre-screened” data thus provides them a “backdoor” to search information without obtaining a warrant.

“In short, domestic law enforcement officials now have access to huge troves of American communications, obtained without warrants, that they can use to put people in cages,” the ACLU of Massachusetts notes in a post on its PrivacySOS blog. “FBI agents don’t need to have any ‘national security’ related reason to plug your name, email address, phone number or other ‘selector’ into the NSA’s gargantuan data trove. … That means information the NSA collects for purposes of so-called ‘national security’ will be used by police to lock up ordinary Americans for routine crimes.”

“It’s all another sobering reminder that any powers we grant to the federal government for the purpose of national security will inevitably be used just about everywhere else,” writes Radley Balko for the Washington Post. “And extraordinary powers we grant government in wartime rarely go away once the war is over. And, of course, the nifty thing for government agencies about a ‘war on terrorism’ is that it’s a war that will never formally end.”

Government agencies have repeatedly proven that they cannot be trusted with our personal information. Their surveillance activities are characteristic of a police state and are not compatible with a free society. Congress must immediately put a halt to this government snooping, particularly domestic surveillance, to preserve what privacy we have left.