No, Demand Oversight
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 hysterical nonsense outright, they tend to stress the potential for abuse. Of course the bulk collection of phone and Internet data could be abused. If the information gleaned from bulk collection did not have the potential for abuse, it would not be such an indispensable tool in our counterterrorist toolbox. But that simply highlights the need to vigorously monitor the program through compliance protocols and legislative and judicial oversight, not to abandon the program altogether. Oversight and use of the least intrusive methods are what Christians should advocate for in the public arena.
My views are based on my direct experience working at the NSA and in the intelligence community as a military intelligence officer. The prevailing suspicion that NSA "spies" are cavalier about the privacy rights of citizens couldn't be further from the truth. The culture of the nsa, from its leadership to entry-level analysts, tilts radically in the opposite direction, toward an almost fanatical obligation to protect Americans' privacy rights.
Christians should support the legitimate use of counterterrorism surveillance under classic just-war reasoning, historically based on Romans 13. There is no justice in terrorism, only injustice. I said that in September 2001, and it's still true.
KEITH PAVLISCHEK, a U.S. Marine Corps colonel (ret.), is vice president of operations at Veteran Solutions Inc.
Yes, It May Be Necessary
Has a threshold of government surveillance been reached beyond which Christians should actively push back? Did it take former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's 2013 disclosures to wake us up to surveillance?
Almost all surveillance today is massive computer-based monitoring of phone call records, e-mails, and Internet use. The days of defining surveillance as the targeting of specific suspects (think Frog One in The French Connection) are long gone. Now surveillance organizations seek to suck up as much data on individuals as possible. An individual's online choices, Facebook views, durations of phone calls, and food fads and fancies all help to tag him or her for police, marketers, and the NSA. The government claims to use this data, merged on a massive scale with other information, to foil terrorism.