This week, the House will vote on Rep. Justin Amash's (R-Mich.) proposed amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill, which the NSA is aggressively lobbying against. If the amendment passes, it will be the first legislative action the House has taken in response to the leak regarding NSA surveillance programs. Many Americans fervently oppose the actions of the NSA, and believe that the overreaching capabilities granted to the agency are unconstitutional. I disagree. The NSA's programs were enacted to protect Americans, and the agency should not have to struggle to maintain the funding required to do its job.
A great deal of the controversy has surrounded the authorization of the PRISM program, which was authorized under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) established a court system that can grant the government permission to conduct electronic surveillance. Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act , the director of the FBI can ask the court for permission to force businesses to hand over user data, “for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.” The act also establishes congressional oversight of all court requests. The vague language of the section enabled the NSA to gain the authority to arbitrarily gather Americans’ telephone data.
Amash’s amendment would defund the controversial program. The proposed measure, which has bipartisan support, "ends authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act," and "Bars the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.” While intelligence officials claim that the program has assisted with thwarting potential terrorist attacks, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that there is currently no evidence that the collection of metadata has been directly responsible for stopping a plot. Even Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), an author of the Patriot Act, said that he does “not believe the release FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act,” adding that, “Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.”
In contrast, President Barack Obama has defended the purpose and legality of the NSA's programs, stating, “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls, that’s not what this program is about.” According to the president, members of Congress were consistently informed about what was taking place. In addition, Obama said, “You can’t have 100% security and 100% privacy … we are going to have to make some choices as a society.” Now, I know how adamantly many people feel about the government gathering data from their phones, and I know that many people are going to disagree with me, but I simply do not understand the quarrel people have with this practice.
The government is not listening to your calls and it is not looking at the content of your online searches. If the NSA wants to gather content, it has to go to the FISA courts and get a warrant. As citizens, we know nothing compared to our president and high-ranking intelligence officials. They are the ones who are receiving classified information on a daily basis, not us. We can’t begin to imagine the scope of the threats our country faces. The constitutional right to privacy is important, but there needs to be a balance. If collecting data can lead to the prevention of an attack, then I strongly support the program.
I believe that we, as a country, are very quick to criticize the actions of our intelligence community and president. I am guilty of it, too. Yet, they are privy to much more information about our national security than we are are, and that is how it should be. These programs are classified for a reason. If the measures that our government is taking to protect us become public, they would become meaningless.
The NSA is doing what it can to protect our nation. They shouldn’t have to beg and plead with the very citizens they are trying to protect. This is a digital age where we put our lives on Facebook and Twitter. Chances are, you already, voluntarily, make more content available to the public than the PRISM program collects. The PRISM program collected data without the permission of individual users, but this is a dangerous time. If sacrificing a tiny bit of our privacy can help our country keep us safe, then that is a sacrifice we should all be willing to make as Americans.