Friday, December 27, 2013

The limits of spying

    To spy, or not to spy? That’s not the question. The question for the U.S. now is how it will spy, who it will spy on, and how far will it go?
    Former National Security Agency con-tractor Edward Snowden kicked off a de-bate about domestic spying and electronic data collection when he fled the country last summer with secret government data.
    A federal judge declared this month that NSA’s methods are unconstitutional.
    It’s a debate that had to happen.
    Snowden got the attention of Ameri-cans, our allies and our enemies when he revealed that all were under scrutiny by the U.S. government. Allies expressed “shock” and demanded it stop.
    Protestations aside, the only amazing thing about Snowden’s revelations was that there was any amazement at all.
    People who use computers, tablets or mobile phones, anyone with a speck of curiosity who got news from sources other than chiseled stone tablets, knew that the spying opportunities were enormous.
    The only puzzling thing is why the ca-pabilities of the technology were not pub-licly debated years ago in the context of U.S. freedoms and law.
    Yes, America had set up a secret court to review and approve electronic surveil-lance. Yes, collected data is undifferenti-ated and requires millions of computer operations to tease out details.
    Nonetheless, if Americans are to con-tinue to enjoy real privacy and protection from unlawful government intrusion, the nation’s laws must catch up to the tech-nology that threatens those freedoms.
    In this debate, which should coincide with the 2014 elections, Americans will have to decide how much they value those freedoms and how they can be balanced against the nation’s need for security from terrorist attacks.

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