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Three Views: Should Christians Resist Greater Government Surveillance?
James O'Brien

No, Demand Oversight

Keith Pavlischek

First, we need to understand the difference between internal communications content, and the bulk collection and analysis of telecommunication data. When we do, it becomes clear why the National Security Administration's (NSA) use of this data does not necessarily violate our privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment.

The debate over the proposed USA Freedom Act has little to do with whether the government is spying on Americans by listening to their phone calls or reading their e-mails. This legislation, simply stated, would restrict the bulk collection and analysis of data about data (known as metadata—numbers dialed, length of call, billing records) in the fight against terrorism. It has long been settled that the Fourth Amendment doesn't protect a conversation that merely has taken place. The Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Maryland (1979), "While the guarantees of the Fourth Amendment are broad, they are not boundless."

The bulk collection of this kind of data is constitutional, yet informed debate on this issue is as difficult for Christians as anyone else. Too often, the debate is reduced to a simplistic choice between good (the right to privacy) and evil (government surveillance). Scholar Benjamin Wittes summarizes this polarized view in his review of No Place to Hide, journalist Glenn Greenwald's book about Edward Snowden: "NSA is unrelentingly evil, its appetite voracious, its purpose political control and the suppression of dissent. Terrorism and other national security interests are mere smokescreens and pretexts for collection that is, in fact, just a repressive instrument."

When privacy advocates don't embrace such ...

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Three Views: Should Christians Resist Greater Government ...
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September 2014

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