Eroding Americans’ privacy, liberty

Government officials’ reactions to revelations the privacy of millions of Americans has been invaded would be laughable were the situation not so serious.

Among other questionable activities, the National Security Agency has been secretly seizing telephone records of millions of Americans – and monitoring many calls.

NSA officials say there is no cause for worry. After all, they assured the public, the agency has the technical ability to avoid illegal spying on Americans.

Well, yes. Of course the NSA is capable of protecting privacy. One method we might suggest would be to refrain from poking around law-abiding citizens’ phone records in the first place.

But that isn’t what the NSA has in mind. One example of safeguards the agency cited was destroying records it obtained improperly. And there are complex computer programs to sift through data to identify things with security implications.

That isn’t the point, of course. Being capable of safeguarding Americans’ liberties and actually doing so can be different things.

The NSA has crossed a line simply by obtaining private information. That infringement cannot be undone – and government claims that the records will not be used illegally are no comfort to Americans worried about basic liberties.

Virtually every time a totalitarian regime has subjugated its own people, the process began by warning them dire consequences would result if the government was not permitted to take small steps to safeguard the nation and its people. Objectors were told times had changed since their countries’ founders had installed safeguards for personal liberties.

Now President Barack Obama is telling Americans, “We have to make choices as a society.”

He is right, but not in the way he intended.

Obama was responding to criticism of the government’s action in secretly seizing telephone records on millions of Verizon customers. There is an excellent chance your phone records were included. Really.

What the president meant was that Americans, in his opinion, should make the choice to give up some of our privacy in exchange for government’s promise to protect us. The phone records were needed to investigate potential terrorist threats, we have been told.

Nonsense. Anyone in law enforcement understands looking at that many records is a fishing expedition – an investigation in the hope of catching someone doing something wrong, but without specific evidence.

Americans already have given up some of our precious liberties. Now Obama demands even more.

He’s right. It is time for us to make a choice – to take back the freedoms that make us Americans.