Phone records, PRISM, leaks and national security

How many time have you seen a story about a high-profile divorce case where a party was caught committing adultery because the adulterer’s calls to the cell phone plan were suspicious? How many times have text messages implicated someone committing adultery? These are relatively low-level ways to expose misbehavior, and the investigations were done by your average person-on-the-street, not national security professionals.

House Speaker John Boehner had this to say about the man who leaked the information to the media: “He’s a traitor. The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Come on, let’s not be drama queens about this. The question here is obvious. Do you really think that Muslim terrorists don’t think that the U.S. government might be monitoring their cell or land-line phones, Skype conversations, text messages, electronic mail and other things?

The idea that the government could be collecting “metadata” on phone calls made or monitoring Internet traffic is not exactly a new thing. None of us should be surprised that the government has this capability or could be using it against Muslim terrorists or state actors (such as Iran) that we deem hostile. We already know that China has been hacking into our computers and stealing data, so of course we would do that to foreign enemies.

What is new here (though not exactly surprising) is that the government is collecting this data on American citizens who are suspected of no wrongdoing. That is why this leak is valuable, because it shows how little respect the Obama administration has for our privacy and our Fourth Amendment rights. Frankly, it is none of Barack Obama’s business if I make a phone call to Jimmy John’s and order a sandwich.

Ideally, Congress should act and pull back the administration’s powers, especially relating to collecting data on tens of millions of American citizens who have committed no crime and are not even suspected of doing so. Law enforcement has been able to wiretap for years, but (at least before 9/11) it was generally thought that a warrant was necessary. Let’s restore the rule of law and respect the Constitution.

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