Thursday, May 11, 2006

Should We Trust Big Brother?

USA Today reported today that the NSA is keeping a large database of telephone call records for US citizens, with the raw data being supplied by the large telecom carriers. No surprise there. Still, here are some thoughts on the subject:

One one hand, the limits of current technology would suggest that the NSA would probably need such a database in order to query it for the specific call records they want to find, such as those related to Al Queda, their associates or their correspondents. I can think of no better way to solve the problem, especially when queries may be made during investigations well subsequent to the calls themselves.

On the other hand, I can understand the concerns of citizens not wishing the government to attain, or retain, this information at all. Is there to be no expectation of privacy for any electronic communication? That would engender a great change to the way Americans conduct themselves, especially given the trend to use so many new forms of electronic communications channels.

On the gripping hand, can we trust the NSA and the Administration (any Administration) not to yield to temptation? If we allow them to collect and hold that information, can we trust them not to mine the data? Does not the memory of Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover suggest that we should not trust George Bush quite that much?

In any society, there are those who will gladly violate the rights of others just because an authority figure told them to. Just where are the checks and balances on executive power under that scenario?

I have to object. On balance, it appears that President Bush is willing to trade a resonable expectation of electronic privacy for a better chance (chance!) of catching a small number of terrorists. I am not. The public good is better served by refusing to become a police state.

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