House vote on secrecy disappointing
by The Savannah Morning News
August 06, 2013 12:39 AM | 1041 views | 0 0 comments | 73 73 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s disappointing that the U.S. House narrowly defeated a bill Wednesday that was aimed at responsibly balancing civil liberties with the need to protect Americans from terrorists.

In a 217-205 vote, a coalition made up of supporters of President Obama and the Republican establishment rejected a bill that would have canceled support for the National Security Agency’s secret and indiscriminate collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records.

Instead, had Congress approved the measure and the president signed it into law, the NSA would have to identify an individual who’s under investigation before it could snoop in someone’s phone calls and text messages.

To his credit, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, who’s running for the U.S. Senate, supported this sensible change. ...

This week’s vote was billed as the first showdown on America’s surveillance program since former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden skipped the country and leaked classified information last month, which spelled out the government’s secret information-gathering activities. Make no mistake. ...

House Republican Justin Amash of Michigan, who sponsored the reform bill that was voted down, believed the government overstepped the boundaries spelled out in the Patriot Act.

That’s the law, approved in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, that enables the executive branch to carry out its duty to protect Americans from terror attacks while not becoming Big Brother.

Reasonable people can disagree on how this balance is struck. But in the case of the random collection of metadata — phone records of numbers called and the duration of the calls — is the equivalent of hauling in haystacks to look for needles.

The government argues that it’s looking for suspicious patterns and doesn’t seek names or content of those calls until a court finds probable cause and gives it permission. ...

As far as data collection is concerned, the sifting of metadata can help authorities confirm the existence of possible terrorists and their terror cells. But investigators shouldn’t be able to randomly cull through data sources to root out bad apples. They must be more precise on the front end. That way, the privacy rights of the many aren’t butchered, which is what the Patriot Act protects.

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