June 13, 2013
Let’s stipulate the obvious: Intelligence programs designed to gather the information needed to thwart terrorist atrocities cannot, by definition be conducted in public view. Whatever we may hear next about secret data-mining of telephone records, it’s kind of important to remember no informant can be inserted to break up a terror plot whose existence no one suspects.
Alongside that reality stands another, that the potential for the activities of government to become abusive is ever-present. In the interest of guarding civic order and public safety, we accept that risk and maintain a Constitution to rein in the worst instincts of political officials.
So normally, citizens dislike government keeping statistics of who calls whom on the telephone but allow for the exigencies of protecting the nation when large numbers of people, abroad and within this country, are determined to murder Americans just because we exist.
The tripwire in that last sentence is “normally.” In addition to the terrorist threat, we confront the parallel abnormality of an administration that has amply demonstrated eagerness to abuse power. To believe these people will overlook the opportunity of using telephone records not only to preempt terrorists but also to manipulate the innocent is to believe that this time, they will deviate from their usual behavior.
The most insidious way in which the Obama administration directly damages this country: It renders reasonable people unwilling to trust government even to do things which we might otherwise acknowledge an absolute need.