Despite an attempt at reassurance from President Obama Friday, Americans have every reason to be concerned that data on their telephone calls will continue to be collected by the government.
Responding to last year’s disclosure of electronic surveillance efforts of the National Security Agency by whistleblower Edward Snowden, Obama Friday announced new rules for data collection and storage. These changes mainly involve how the NSA stores collected data and who gets access to it. But the bottom line remains: The NSA will continue to collect the numbers and times of calls made by every American.
The government claims this “metadata” — the details about the time and place of calls but not the actual conversations themselves — are key to national security in an age in which global terrorist networks rely on modern communications to plan and execute their nefarious schemes.
But it is also enormously intrusive into the private lives of Americans and raises serious constitutional questions about the right of the people to be, as the Fourth Amendment states, secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Chillingly, the president in his address at the Justice Department, asked Americans to set aside their constitutional and privacy concerns.
“After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors and our friends,” Obama said. “They have electronic bank and medical records like everyone else. They have kids on Facebook and Instagram, and they know, more than most of us, the vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded; emails and text messages are stored; and even our movements can be tracked through the GPS on our phones.”
Surely, the president means well but such assurances strike us as incredibly naive. History is filled with stories of “neighbors and friends” happily stripping away the rights of their fellow countrymen, all in the name of security.