The National Security Administration's surveillance program (PRISM) has been under fire for the past three months for spying on Americans after former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked sensitive information on the data-mining operation. Now the fire has become an inferno with a new Washington Post article released Thursday detailing how the NSA has broken privacy rules thousands of times each year. These ranged from significant violations of the law to typos that resulted in private emails and telephone records of American citizens being accessed.
Unintentional or not, this is an outrage because Americans should expect their government to safeguard their civil liberties and not be treated like criminals. Even more troubling, the chief judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (which oversees PRISM), U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton, has admitted that the court's oversight powers are limited.
The debate on what to do about PRISM is a bit unusual because it does not involve the usual Republican-Democrat split. Instead, the split is largely Tea Party conservatives and progressives against the Obama Administration, Congressional leaders and centrists. The reason for this is both the Tea Party and progressives despite their differences on almost every issue, share a common distrust of government in the personal lives of Americans. The others in this case feel government should be given the benefit of the doubt.
In this case, the nation's surveillance programs need immediate reform. The good news is there are several bills that have already been introduced that would address NSA lawlessness, with three particularly intriguing. One is a bill sponsored by Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that would require data collection be preceded by a "demonstrated leak" to terrorism and espionage. The second is a bipartisan bill by Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Mike Lee (R-UT) that would declassify the legal opinions used by FISA to justify the NSA's surveillance programs. Wyden, Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tom Udall (D- N.M.) also introduced legislation Thursday which would require the FISA Court of Review to choose a special advocate for the court. this advocate would have the authority to appeal decisions that involve "new of significant construction or interpretation of the law."
Most people agree that the government needs to take security precautions to ensure the safety of America from terrorists. At the same time, though, we must ensure the constitutional rights of Americans in the process.