Less than two weeks after news broke that the government has been secretly seizing millions of phone and Internet records, polls show about half of the public approves of the vacuum-cleaner approach to keeping them safe from terrorism. Tuesday’s House hearing on the National Security Agency programs did nothing to disturb that foolishly compliant attitude.
The witness list was stacked in favor of the administration. The questioning was mostly friendly. NSA Director Keith Alexander testified that the data had helped break up more than 50 plots, including bombings of the New York Stock Exchange and the city’s subways. Courts, Congress and a gaggle of self-imposed restrictions protect privacy and civil liberties, other witnesses assured.
The message was clear: Nothing to worry about here. Trust us.
So what’s not to like? The lessons of history. As Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn, said, “We know that when a capability exists, there’s a potential for abuse.” Safeguards like those in place today have repeatedly been overridden and promises like today’s abandoned.