Life, Liberty and false security

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 13, 2006

The latest erosion of our liberty in the name of security may be the most disturbing.

On Thursday, the USA Today disclosed the existence of a massive domestic intelligence-gathering program coordinated by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Not surprisingly, this program started following the September 11 terrorist attacks and involves the NSA collecting call records on billions of personal and business telephone calls made in the United States. The NSA attempts to search through the database for clues about potential terrorist threats.

Obviously, the disclosure of the program’s existence generated concern throughout the country and in Washington, D.C. Democrats and Republicans criticized the program as a threat to privacy and called for congressional inquiries to learn more.

However, an early poll of 502 randomly selected adults nationwide conducted by ABC showed that 63 percent of Americans initially support the program.

The &uot;call detail records&uot; allow the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies to track who calls whom and when. The majority of the large telecommunications companies are cooperating with the NSA, providing the government access to billions of telephone calls. The intelligence analysts use this information to &uot;mine&uot; the records in hopes of exposing hidden connections and finding signs of terrorist plots.

Only Qwest Communications denied the NSA’s request for the information, questioning the legality of the program, but risking the loss of multi-million dollar government contracts.

According to the USA Today report, the telephone companies are removing the names and addresses of their customers from the records they give the NSA, but the government can identify account owners using commercial databases like Lexis-Nexis.

The exposure of this NSA program comes just days after the President introduced his nominee, Air Force General Michael Hayden, to replace Porter Goss as head of the Central Intelligence Agency. What is the point of having a civilian intelligence gathering agency if it is headed by a military officer?

These two factors, combined with the existence of NSA’s secret domestic wire-tapping program, lead me to believe our government has gone too far.

Any day now, I am expecting our President to announce that he is postponing the 2006 and 2008 elections, citing the need for consistent and strong leadership during this time of war. The President and his supporters will argue that these are dangerous times we live in and we shouldn’t change leadership in mid-stream. Others will miss the point entirely and argue if you have nothing to hide then what are you worried about?

One underlying problem that is being overlooked is the important fact that our government agencies, the ones conducting these programs, are not telling us of their existence. Concerned agency personnel are leaking this information.

What else is the government doing that they don’t want us to know about?

At what point does the need to investigate potential terrorists outweigh privacy concerns and are we willing to sacrifice our liberty in the name of perceived security?

These are the question we must all ask ourselves.