Lately it seems the only people expressing outrage at the National Security Agency’s (NSA) accumulation of private personal information and cell phone tracking data live abroad. Maybe the hullabaloo over the introduction of Obamacare has drowned out some voices. Fortunately, Congressman Richie Neal is not one of those.
Indeed, Congressman Neal has long defended the right of privacy, having been one of only 66 members of the House who voted against the Patriot Act in 2001. Today he is one of nine co-sponsors of the Surveillance State Repeal Act, which among other things would: repeal George W. Bush’s misguided Patriot Act, prohibit the NSA from acquiring information on U.S. citizens without a warrant based on probable cause, and bar the federal government from requiring manufacturers of electronic devices and related software to build in mechanisms that allow the NSA and other agencies to bypass encryption or other privacy technology.
Recent revelations that the NSA is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world underscores the severity of the problem. Such records enable the agency to track individuals -- and map their relationships -- in ways that would have been previously unimaginable. In short, the federal government has grossly overstepped its bounds in its surveillance of U.S. citizens. Congressman Neal’s legislative effort would go a long way to rectify the problem.
The presumption of privacy -- the idea of what we write, email, or say in private should (in the absence of evidence of wrongdoing) remain confidential -- is as old as our Republic. It’s even embedded in our Constitution. Yet, as Congressman Neal notes, this right has been severely diminished by the NSA and the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Clearly, new restrictions are needed. We cannot rely on the government’s most secretive court to check the actions of its most secretive agency.
This attack on our basic right to privacy has to stop. As Benjamin Franklin said more than two and a half centuries ago, "They who would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." Americans should know that what they intend to be private, stays private. Whether in their homes, online, or on their cellphones, Americans should feel safe from government prying.
I congratulate Congressman Neal for once again stepping up to safeguard these basic rights from overreaching federal agencies.
SHEILA A. MURRAY
The author is chair of the Berkshire Brigades, the county’s Democratic Party organization.