The debate over the NSA’s methods of monitoring terrorist activity has taken another turn with the revelation by USA Today that the agency has been collecting a database of the phone calls of tens of millions of Americans. There is plenty to debate about the legality and constitutionality of the program. The idea of a government agency maintaining a secret database of our phone calls is understandably spooky to many people. And certainly, there is a valid concern that even if the program isn’t being abused now, it sets a troubling precedent that could lead to abuses down the road.
With that said, I am still not alarmed by the mere existence of the database. It makes sense that if the NSA is trying to isolate those with ties to terrorists, they would want to have as large a database as possible to sniff out irregular activity. If the government were using the data for other investigations unrelated to the terrorist threat, I’d start to be concerned. If it turned out that Bush was authorizing such measures for his own financial gain, or to spy on his political opponents, I’d be angry, and would be joining those calling for his impeachment. But thus far, there is no evidence that the database was used for any such nefarious purposes.
My position comes not from any naiveté or love for the federal government, but from an understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat and the unenviable position it puts law enforcement agents in. In this one area, I’m willing to cut law enforcement more slack. Some people become outraged by the mere potential that such intelligence-gathering methods can be abused. But I will save my outrage for if actual abuses occur.