The Edward Snowden affair has intensified the debate about what surveillance techniques are acceptable for the U.S. intelligence agencies in their efforts to protect America. The overriding issue is the balance between national security and our civil liberties, particularly our right to privacy.
But also problematic and disturbing is the president's response to questions being posed by the media and Americans across the country. Does the president have the authority to just brush aside the concerns of his constituencies? Does the Obama administration have the right to look into our private communications without cause?
President Obama's casual demeanor about this subject, his "trust me, I'm working on it" mentality is unacceptable.
An article in the New York Times delves into the actions the president intends to take as he attempts to control the debate over the National Security Agency's surveillance practices. In this regard, he thinks there is legitimate justification for domestic spying and has no intention to curtail secret surveillance.
Obama is calling for more openness and scrutiny of the NSA programs, so that the American public can know that it has not gone to far. He said, "We have to strike the right balance between protecting our security and preserving our freedom." To this point, the president does not believe there have been any abuses.
The press, he implied, has distorted the public's understanding of the surveillance programs. Emphatically, Obama said, "America is not interested in spying on ordinary people," protecting Americans and its allies are his only objective.
To allay concerns, more oversight will be established, and the procedures of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will be changed. This is the group that approves surveillance and spying activities.
Additionally, Obama wants the NSA to employ full time civil liberties and privacy officers, and the president will create a task force that includes outside intelligence people and civil liberties advocates to advise him.
I have no problem with the government monitoring telephone calls and emails in the interest of national security if there is cause or suspicion that is endorsed by a legitimate court. Yet, I believe actions are necessary to ensure that the NSA does not abuse its mandate.
The president is treating the American people in a condescending and disrespectful fashion. The genie is out of the bottle and it appears that certain federal agencies are out of control. The security infrastructure needs to be regulated and overseen more closely by Congress. Obama should not soft-soap this problem because civil liberties are so important to this country.
On the other hand, if surveillance is enabling our intelligence agencies to ward off terrorist attacks, it should not be downsized or emasculated. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has urged the president not to go too far and decrease the NSA's "fundamental capabilities." He said, "Our priority should continue to be saving American lives, not saving face."
A good plan to deal with our overzealous intelligence infrastructure can be crafted if the president and his critics can agree. Given this country's inability to compromise on virtually any issue, I am not sanguine about a resolution of the controversy in the near future. I expect the president and the NSA to continue to hide behind the skirts of national security, and for the agency to continue to be overly intrusive in our lives.