"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." – Benjamin Franklin, 1775
Since before our nation’s founding, we have debated the balancing act over how much government intrusion we will tolerate in our lives to ensure national security.
The debate has come to the forefront again with revelations regarding a program of the National Security Administration called PRISM. The program is collecting a myriad of data on United States citizens from phone data to emails with the stated purpose of trying to detect and stop terrorism.
The current environment is the outgrowth of counter-terrorism activities created in response to the attacks on America of Sept. 11, 2001.
Arkansan Asa Hutchinson, who served from 2003-2005 under President George Bush as under secretary of the newly created Department of Homeland Security, is concerned about where snooping has taken the country.
"While I am sensitive to the national security mission of both NSA and the FISA court, I am concerned that the data collection is overbroad as it pertains to U.S. citizens. It is difficult to understand how the production of all call data for Verizon customers — including all calls between customers located within the U.S. — is justified considering the very narrow mission of NSA to target foreign terrorist activity," Hutchinson said of the PRISM program.
"If the U.S. data is essential in a terrorism investigation, then there are more traditional means of gathering the information that affords U.S. citizens the civil liberty protections under the U.S. Constitution. I know that the view of most counter-terrorism analysts is that more data is better than less data, but that is the reason we must have the systems in place to prevent the massive accumulation of citizen data without particularized need and specific suspicion," he said.
The comments from Hutchinson come as he prepares to seek the Republican nomination for governor of Arkansas. Hutchinson ran unsuccessfully in 2006 against incumbent Gov. Mike Beebe, who is term-limited.
"Our citizens should always be concerned when the government accumulates private data. While the commercial world has access to much of this data, it is a different issue when the government collects the information on its citizens," Hutchinson said. "While it is necessary in some instances, it should always have a good check and balance that is sufficiently transparent to assure the citizens that the Constitution is being followed."
The line of what we will tolerate seems to be pushed constantly by both advancements in technology and the successes of terrorists. Our desire to prevent terrorism by using the latest technology is the current driver for the latest intrusion into our private lives. The government has obtained a wide variety of data under the guise of seeking information on terrorist activities.
Hutchinson’s concerns are shared by many in the country who worry about the direction we are heading.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.