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NSA snooping and the shadow of 9/11

By Scott Tibbs, August 2, 2013

After Pearl Harbor, we were justifiably concerned about national security and what Imperial Japan would do next. As part as our efforts to make our nation safe, we rounded up Americans of Japanese descent - including women and children - and herded them into concentration camps. No doubt those who objected to this despicable (not to mention illegal) violation of human rights were scolded as being blind to the very real threat to our national security.

One could make the argument that we have more to fear from our own government than foreign terrorists. The men, women and children forced into concentration camps in World War II may agree. The Native Americans who were massacred as we pushed westward would probably agree as well - but they cannot answer because they are all dead. One of the most despicable actions in that campaign was the Sand Creek Massacre, when U.S. troops attacked a Cheyenne village while the men were away and savagely massacred women and children.

No doubt some thought the Sand Creek Massacre was necessary to eliminate a "threat" to our security.

This brings us to the scandal broken by Edward Snowden regarding the massive data-collection by the National Security Agency of phone records and Internet traffic of virtually every American, the vast majority of whom are not suspected of or tied to terrorism of any kind. Surely our federal government is only collecting these records for our safety and there is no need to worry about the data being abused. According to folks like Chris Christie, those objecting to this program are dangerously naïve.

Here's the deal. No serious person objects to the government having the power to conduct wiretaps, collect phone records or monitor Internet use - provided that there is a warrant and a reasonable suspicion of illegal or dangerous activity. Even the most ardent libertarian would not have a problem with this. The problem is the massive collection of data on three hundred million innocent people, and the potential for abuse.

There is not (or should not be) a conflict between national security and civil liberties. What we need to do as a nation is get beyond the fear mongering tactics of people like Christie who yell "September 11" to shame or silence people with legitimate concerns about government overreach and the potential for abuse of power.