Three liberal Democrat Senators have penned a letter demanding that the government stop the NSA domestic dragnet now. Democrat Senators Udall, Wyden and Heinrich took to the pages of the New York Times to issue a call to Constitutional sanity on domestic spying. We do not often find ourselves in agreements with Democrats, especially ones as liberal as these, but in this case we do concur.
The framers of the Constitution declared that government officials had no power to seize the records of individual Americans without evidence of wrongdoing, and they embedded this principle in the Fourth Amendment. The bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records — so-called metadata — by the National Security Agency is, in our view, a clear case of a general warrant that violates the spirit of the framers’ intentions. This intrusive program was authorized under a secret legal process by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, so for years American citizens did not have the knowledge needed to challenge the infringement of their privacy rights.
Our first priority is to keep Americans safe from the threat of terrorism. If government agencies identify a suspected terrorist, they should absolutely go to the relevant phone companies to get that person’s phone records. But this can be done without collecting the records of millions of law-abiding Americans. We recall Benjamin Franklin’s famous admonition that those who would give up essential liberty in the pursuit of temporary safety will lose both and deserve neither.
Congress needs to preserve the agencies’ ability to collect information that is actually necessary to guard against threats to our security. But it also needs to preserve the right of citizens to be free from unwarranted interference in their lives, which the framers understood was vital to American liberties.
The NSA has overstepped its boundaries, and while their efforts to stop terrorism may be sincere, that is beside the point. The point is that we are nation founded on the ideas of liberty above all else. Safety is nice, when it can be won inside the borders of our unfettered liberty. The terrorists who hate us are not our greatest enemy – our own government is. We have more to fear from politicians wishing to do good, than from evil men hiding in dusty caves.
We must jealously guard our liberty, or we risk losing it forever.
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