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COMMENTARY: U.S. phone spying gives terrorists a win

by The (Toronto) Star on June 16, 2013 2:20 AM

If Americans preferred not to think about how much they have surrendered in the war on terror, they can’t avoid doing so now. They can’t make a phone call to their dentist or hairdresser without having their home or cellphone number secretly taken down by Washington, along with the other party’s number, the time of the call and its length. It’s that bad.

If Osama bin Laden were still alive he’d chalk up this surveillance gone wild as a coup for al-Qaida. More than a decade after the 9/11 attack, it still has the United States living in fear and trading away freedoms for security. This is beginning to look like a war the U.S. is determined to lose, one way or another.

With the acquiescence of both Democratic and Republican intelligence leaders in Congress who fear being branded soft on terror, both U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration and that of George W. Bush have secretly interpreted the Patriot Act of 2001 so broadly that no one can escape pervasive scrutiny.

Thanks to media leaks Americans now know that under the Patriot Act the secrecy-shrouded Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered the Verizon telecommunications company, serving 121 million customers, to hand over to the security services its records on an “ongoing, daily basis.” ...

Stung by the leaks, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has moved to tamp down a public outcry by taking the rare step of declassifying some details about the “telephony metadata” surveillance. Americans should be reassured that key members of Congress have been kept in the loop, he said. The White House is committed to protecting “privacy and civil liberties.” ...

Perhaps some good will come of this. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and others are pressing for “a real debate in the Congress and the country” over balancing privacy rights and security. Ominously for the administration, people are calling the surveillance “un-American.”

In effect, the U.S. government is asking its citizens (and people elsewhere who use the Internet) to trust it as it trolls through their private lives looking for bad actors. The sheer audacity of that demand speaks volumes about America’s unhealthy obsession with terror. It’s past time to move on.

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