Senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss took to the podium today to defend and clarify the NSA's freshly exposed data-gathering operation. Feinstein stressed that the information being gathered was not content, and that information was gathered automatically and "can only be accessed under heightened standards." Perhaps you could call that the good news. The bad news is that the government has, potentially, a complete record of every phone call that occurs within or through the U.S. — the calling and receiving numbers, duration of the calls, and locations of the callers. Although this leaked court order only concerns Verizon, experts are quite certain that it applies to nearly all U.S. cell carriers.
One can empathize with lawmakers and politicians charged with protecting their populations. After all, terrorism is real, and doing nothing about it is not acceptable. The obvious question regarding such responses is: at what cost to personal freedoms? To some politicians, and surely also to some of their constituents, there truly seems to be no limit. The timeless senator Lindsey Graham sees foreign and domestic terrorists around every corner, and homegrown terrorism is "one of [his] biggest concerns."
But there are more prosaic and restrained voices that advocate for programs such as this one, that argue that a balance is necessary between freedom and security. Still others in government, Republicans among them, find these new admissions repugnant violations of the Fourth Amendment, especially vis-a-vis the recent White House scandals that even Jon Stewart has assaulted. White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary (yes, that really is his title) Josh Earnest expressed that the Obama administration is "welcoming" the ensuing civil liberties debate.
What is striking about all this necessary public discourse is the lack of more profound questions about terrorism. Amid the discussion about how to combat this nefarious, now-domestic threat, few are discussing the foreign policies that have compelled people to take up arms against the U.S. and the West. The recent murder of a British soldier in London considered a terror attack gives insight into this global war and the domestic terrorists it spawns. For all his shocking brutality, one of the infamous attackers who killed that British soldier delivered his casus belli, and some observations that I find hard to refute; namely that "Muslims are dying daily" by Western agency. This is nothing new. A personal favorite regarding this topic is Madeleine Albright's public assertion on 60 Minutes that it was worth letting half a million Iraqi children die as a result of U.S. sanctions, in order to remove erstwhile ally Saddam Husseinn. Yes, this actually happened.
Right now, the American public is discussing how to combat the inexplicable aberration of increasing domestic terrorism. That's fine; but until the discussion begins to include serious inquiry regarding the root causes of terrorism, and not just responses to it, we will continue go nowhere. Even if the Fourth Amendment is not already being violated, and even if the current balance between civil liberties and security is appropriate, it seems impossible to anticipate that things will not get worse without more profound questions about terrorism.