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Privacy vs. security

"Privacy vs. security" Continued...

Like other lawmakers, Huelskamp said the secret sweep of telephone records takes on a new meaning in the aftermath of the IRS targeting conservative groups and the Justice Department’s secret collection of journalists’ phone records. Huelskamp said it “raises even more distrust and fundamental concern about President Obama’s willingness to trample on the privacy rights of American citizens.” 

During the 2008 presidential election, then candidate Obama got a lot of campaign mileage out of criticizing the spying efforts under then President George W. Bush. Republicans accused Obama of distorting the Bush Administration’s activities while civil liberty advocates expected Obama to crack down on any surveillance activities if he was elected. Obama acknowledge on Friday that he came into office with “a healthy skepticism about these programs.” But five years later it seems that the programs have been approved and expanded under his watch.

Now groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are finding themselves in an awkward place: opposing Obama.

“The secrecy surrounding the government’s extraordinary surveillance powers has stymied our system of checks and balances,” said Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office. “Congress must initiate an investigation to fully uncover the scope of these powers and their constraints, and it must enact reforms that protect Americans’ right to privacy and that enable effective public oversight of our government.”

This furor did not surprise some in Washington who knew that it was just a matter of time before the secrets were exposed. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., warned back in 2011:  “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”

With the leaks, the debate over how to strike a balance between privacy rights and national security will now take an even more central place in the public square.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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