- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2014


Edward J. Snowden revealed to the world that the U.S. government collects emails, records telephone calls and snoops through other communications of just about everybody.

This disclosure set off an overdue debate on the meaning and limits of privacy and surveillance in the modern age. But concerns linger. Mr. Snowden’s initial flight to Hong Kong and his accepting Vladimir Putin’s Russian hospitality raises concerns that more than whistleblowing is going on.

Government officials told The New York Times that Mr. Snowden used a simple software tool to collect 1.7 million documents from the highly secretive internal network used by the National Security Agency.

Officials walked reporters through a number of findings in their investigation that suggest Mr. Snowden may have switched contracting jobs and his work locations to take advantage of certain security vulnerabilities at the spy agency.

Mr. Snowden’s response cuts to the heart of the matter. “It’s ironic that officials are giving classified information to journalists,” he said through his lawyer, “in an effort to discredit me for giving classified information to journalists. The difference is that I did so to inform the public about the government’s actions, and they’re doing so to misinform the public about mine.”

Defenders of government snooping ask curious and irrelevant personal questions. At a recent hearing, Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, accused Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for The London Guardian, of selling the material obtained from Mr. Snowden for his own gain.

“There are individuals eager to sell this information to other news organizations,” he said. “Would that be a legitimate exercise on behalf of a reporter?”

Mr. Rogers is an unapologetic advocate of domestic snoopery. He says the bulk collection of metadata from telephone calls is “just numbers” and “business records” that the courts have said the government may take without a warrant and inspect at its leisure.

Among those “numbers” are records of the GPS coordinates of every cellphone, which is the equivalent of the FBI dispatching surveillance teams to follow everyone in the nation at all times. It’s more than just numbers.

Whenever someone questions whether the government should be entrusted with such power, the invariable response is that the spy agencies always investigate themselves.

“They found no violations,” says Mr. Rogers. “No unlawful activity, no scandal.” These are the same people who didn’t discover Mr. Snowden abusing his access to this sensitive information who are now telling us that they haven’t seen anyone else abuse the system.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are concerned, as they should be, that the administration has access to the internal deliberations of members of Congress.

Asked last week whether the administration is recording emails and telephone calls on Capitol Hill, Deputy Attorney General James Cole replied, “Probably we do.”

This should send chills down the spines of everyone, particularly those who embrace the concept of limited government and the separation of powers. Perhaps it’s Mr. Snowden’s detractors who ought to be investigated.

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