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Originally published Friday, December 27, 2013 at 3:56 PM

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Editorial: Obama must rein in the NSA

President Obama ignores the warnings and recommendations of privacy experts at the peril of American freedoms, values and independence.


Seattle Times Editorial

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PRESIDENT Obama has a clearly defined mission in 2014. Protect Americans from the wretched excesses of the National Security Agency.

The NSA ostensibly was created to keep U.S. citizens from harm. Recently a panel of security and surveillance experts made it clear Americans must be shielded from unchecked invasions of privacy by the NSA.

The Affordable Care Act was cursed with all manner of computer glitches, but the machinery to eavesdrop on millions of Americans hums along without credible judicial scrutiny or congressional oversight.

No one is paying attention as the NSA vacuums up stunning amounts of telephone and online data every 90 days and stores it for five years, The New York Times reported.

How the information is used and who has access to it is not well understood. Tensions are even surfacing with foreign allies who have varying security links.

The phone companies, and other data sources, turn over the information on the broadest of directions from the NSA’s lap dog surveillance court. Is anyone acting on the basis of probable cause or some level of suspicion? No.

The panel of experts briefed Obama. One can hope he will address the concerns of a former national security adviser in Democrat and Republican administrations, privacy and constitutional specialists, and a former deputy director of the CIA.

The panel recommends more than 40 changes, including a separation of leadership roles between civilian and military cyber authorities. The president has already turned that down.

The federal courts are of two minds. On Friday, a federal judge in New York found NSA data gathering to be legal and a valuable tool against terrorism. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., described the collection of telephone data as “almost Orwellian.”

The trauma of 9/11 prepared Americans to accept some new, intensive level of security surveillance in dangerous times. The nation naively expected the newly created Foreign Intellitence Surveillance Court to scrutinize government requests to monitor telephone and online traffic.

Apparently the FISA court plays an essentially rigged and weighted role that only serves the government.

Obama must protect the country from internal security abuses. Congress has legislative powers of executive oversight and the budget. Use both to rein in the NSA.

The NSA has a mission, but the agency cannot be allowed to ignore basic rights and freedoms.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).



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