What others say: Congress must enact safeguards to protect privacy

  • Wednesday, May 13, 2015 4:14pm
  • Opinion

Last fall, Congress was on the verge of doing away with the most troubling invasion of privacy revealed by Edward Snowden: the National Security Agency’s indiscriminate collection of the telephone records of millions of Americans. But then opponents cited the emergence of Islamic State as a reason for preserving the status quo. The Senate failed to muster the 60 votes needed to proceed with the so-called USA Freedom Act.

But the legislation has staged a comeback. Last week the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill of the same name that would end bulk collection — leaving phone records in the possession of telecommunications providers. The government could search telephone records only by convincing a court that there was “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a specific search term — such as a telephone number — was associated with international terrorism. And rules would be tightened so that investigators couldn’t search records from, say, an entire state, city or ZIP Code.

Americans were understandably alarmed in 2013 when Snowden revealed that information about the sources, destination and duration of their phone calls was being vacuumed up by the NSA and stored by the government, which could then “query” the database without court approval for numbers connected to suspected terrorists. After initially defending the program, President Obama modified it a bit, but he left it to Congress to make the fundamental change of ending bulk collection.

We had hoped that Congress would take a fresh look at whether this program is necessary at all, given a presidential task force’s conclusion that it was “not essential to preventing attacks.” But if Congress is determined to continue the program, it must establish safeguards. The bill does this, though there is room for improvement. For example, unlike last year’s Senate bill, this measure doesn’t require the government to destroy information it obtains about individuals who aren’t the target of an investigation or suspected agents of a foreign government or terrorist organization.

Approval is likely in the House, but prospects in the Senate are more doubtful. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that ending bulk collection of phone records would amount to “tying our hands behind our backs.”

That was, and is, a specious objection. Under this legislation, the government can continue to search telephone records when there is a reasonable suspicion of a connection to terrorism. But it will no longer be able to warehouse those records, and it will have to satisfy a court that it isn’t on a fishing expedition. Those are eminently reasonable restrictions — unless you believe that the war against Islamic State and similar groups means that Americans must sacrifice their right to privacy in perpetuity.

— Los Angeles Times,

May 6

More in Opinion

Apayauq Reitan, the first transgender woman to participate in the Iditarod, tells the House Education Committee on March 30, 2023, why she opposes a bill restricting transgender rights. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The imaginary transgender sports crisis

House Bill 183 is a right-wing solution to a problem that doesn’t exist now and never will.

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Session ends with budget, dividend and bills passed

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Listen to PAs; support Senate Bill 115: Modernizing PA Practice in Alaska

Health care is rapidly evolving, demanding a more flexible and responsive system

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file photo)
Opinion: Hilcorp Alaska: Powering Southcentral Alaska — past, present and future

Hilcorp Alaska has and will continue to fully develop our Cook Inlet basin leasehold

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024 (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Collegiality matters

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Juneau Empire file photo
Larry Persily.
Opinion: Alaska might as well embrace the past

The governor, legislators, municipal officials and business leaders are worried that the Railbelt will run short of natural gas before the end of the decade

The Alaska State Capitol on March 1. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Physicians oppose Alaska Senate Bill 115 — Independent Practice for PAs

Alaskans don’t want access to just any health care, they want access to high quality care

Norm McDonald is the deputy director of Fire Protection for the Alaska Division of Forestry & Fire Protection. (Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service)
The Swan Lake Fire can be seen from above on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Alaska Wildland Fire Information)
Opinion: This wildfire prevention month, reflect on ways to protect each other and our communities from wildfire

Alaskans saw what happened in Canada last year, and they know it can happen here too

Jason Sodergren and retired veterinarian Ralph Broshes capture and attend to crane shot with an arrow, July 9, 2023, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo provided by Nina Faust)
What happened to the ‘Arrowshot Crane’?

In many animal rescues, the outcome is fairly quickly known, but the… Continue reading