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Mark Caserta: Americans can't compromise privacy for security

Jan. 30, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

Do Americans have a fundamental right to privacy from government intrusion into their lives?

The right to privacy, in many ways, has been taken for granted to some degree by the American people. Each of us has grown accustomed to having the liberty to establish varying boundaries in our lives that we simply expect others to respect.

But the right to keep those boundaries might be in peril.

While the Constitution contains no "express" right to privacy, courts have ruled the Bill of Rights creates "zones of privacy" which protect us from government intrusion in many areas of our lives. Our Founding Fathers believed that smaller, less intrusive government was necessary in enabling Americans to be free.

I've been tentative about weighing in on National Security Agency (NSA) systems analyst Edward Snowden and his "whistle blowing" of our government's security techniques to the world. But it's time Americans begin processing how this information may impact our future personal freedoms.

Snowden revealed a top-secret program code-named "PRISM" operating under the provisions of the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the government uses to collect personal data from American citizens indiscriminately and regardless of suspicion of wrongdoing.

Investigations have confirmed that data such as video chats, photographs and emails are collected from the servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and other online companies.

My position has been this is an infringement upon the privacy rights of Americans. While Snowden "appeared" courageous in his whistle blowing, he should have presented his case through the proper venues -- an error which will likely keep him from ever returning home.

But then last week, two leading members of the House Intelligence Committee revealed a classified Pentagon report that found Edward Snowden's leaks have compromised U.S. military tactics and put troops in danger.

Republican committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers and ranking Democrat Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said that Snowden stole approximately 1.7 million intelligence files that "concern vital operations of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force." Since this information has already aided the enemy, Snowden is now pegged a traitor.

"The vast majority of the material was related to the Defense Department, and our military services," Rogers said in an Associated Press interview last week. "Clearly, given the scope and the types of information, I have concerns about operations that would be ongoing in Afghanistan."

It's important for Americans to maintain perspective here and not be swayed by political affiliation.

Our government has been exposed (albeit by a traitor) "experimenting" with the boundaries of privacy afforded by the U.S. Constitution.

In 2013, President Barack Obama, himself a constitutional lawyer, told Americans they were "going to have to make some choices" balancing privacy and security and defended the NSA surveillance program vigorously.

Consider this: If our privacy isn't protected by the Constitution, what then, defines the government's limitations?

Americans should never be asked to give up fundamental rights to gain the government's protection.

That's a dangerous step backward.

Mark Caserta is a Cabell County resident and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page.

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