Reacting to the NSA database
When Google wants to tailor ads to its users, it uses various algorithms to identify key phrases without the need for human review of personal data. In regards to the top secret NSA database of phone, internet, and credit card data, which supposedly only shifts through “meta-data” versus contextual data, our national security officials and elected officials argue such a massive effort to track the behavior of individuals is useful. Quite frankly, the secretive nature of the George W. Bush and Obama Administrations creates distrust in government while opening the doors to government abuse. Plainly, there is no compelling or imminent state interest, which is the standard test for violating Constitutional boundaries, in keeping the building of a long running and highly applicable database of personal information a secret.
Given the global terrorist threat is ongoing and tools like this database can be used for any kind of police action, as well as other activities, the American People should have been given the opportunity to publicly review this program before it was even launched. As thoughtless as the IRS was when it ignored the need for greater sensitivity in its efforts to verify the credibility of Conservative groups’ claims for 501C eligibility and the blatant sidestepping of First Amendment protections for convenience of investigators by the DOJ when it seized records of members of the Press, the secret building of this database demonstrates a complete disregard on behalf of the national security community to hold itself accountable to the American People.
That said, a more honest, transparent approach by the US government would have hinged upon the ability of the American government to balance the state interest of national security with the state interest of protecting civil liberties. Consider that the police do not have the authority to simply follow American citizens around 24/7 without some sort of justification and oversight; when they do, it is a crime. As such, our national security officials do not have the right to stalk and harass millions of Americans, because they might make use of their digital life to uncover a potential terrorist attack. Consequently, there should be no NSA database. Instead, the NSA should be openly collaborating with private companies to access data when needed and offering their private partners’ the tool needed to identify potential target. That is, companies should be maintaining their own databases, if they choose to do so, and government should be regulating their use of those databases and accessing that database itself when there is a clear national security issue. In turn, companies like Google, which also need to do a better job of addressing the ethics issues surrounding of such information collection, should be tapped to build those tools. Meanwhile, the US government needs to do more to cooperate with the governments of the world by setting global standards on data sharing and privacy protections, so the global threat of terrorism can be addressed democratically through cooperation and the balancing of two fundamental state interests.
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