News and Tribune

June 21, 2013

NASH: Is it worth it?

Local columnist

Over the last few weeks American citizens have become aware of the National Security Agency’s intrusion into our everyday lives. It all sounds like something you thought could only happen in a Hollywood movie but appears that the U.S. government is keeping tabs on everyone’s comings and goings. To what extent that we are actually being tracked has yet to be proven, it is still too early in all of this for anyone to know.

At first it was just believed that only certain customers from some phone companies were being targeted, but now it is believed that all major companies are involved. Government officials have also insisted that they are not listening to specific telephone calls, they are just looking for patterns of behavior.

When it was first announced that our government had been spying on its own citizens, some people were quick to condemn the current administration for what they believed to be another abuse of its power. It now is clear that this began under the previous administration and was part of the Patriot Act that was born out of the fear that surrounded the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11,2001.

Some people have been quick to point out that this is a clear violation of the Constitution, but others say this is what it takes to keep us safe in a post 9/11 world. Do we need to give up a little bit of our freedoms, or any freedoms at all? Should we allow this intrusion into our personal lives or are we heading down a slippery slope that it would be impossible to come back from.

It has also come to light that the NSA also has access to Google, Apple and Facebook with the ability to track what law abiding citizens are looking at. NSA officials have claimed that these communication surveillance programs have thwarted more than 50 potential terrorist events since Sept. 11, 2001. Only 10 of these attacks were set to take place within the United States. They have not yet been very specific on what attacks may have been stopped but U.S. government officials insist that we are safer now than we were before.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. It requires probable cause before a warrant is issued. It has a requirement that a search warrant must be accompanied by an oath of affirmation of specifically what and who is to be searched. The NSA seems to be on a fishing expedition an end around of exactly what the framers had intended.

Some people argue that as long as you are doing nothing wrong you should have nothing to worry about. Others say that as soon as you start to give up just a little bit of your freedom it becomes easier and easier each time they take away something else.    

President Obama has defended the practice and insists that the NSA is not sitting around listening to our telephone calls. Former Vice President Dick Cheney believes that the Sept. 11 terror attacks may have been prevented if such monitoring practices had been in place in 2001. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week drew the ire of the Louisville Tea Party who called him a hypocrite for defending the NSA surveillance. When those three people agree that something is a good plan I really get confused.

 Over the next few weeks and months I am sure that we will learn more about the NSA surveillance program. We will hear how much safer we are and we will decide for ourselves if the intrusion into our lives is worth the security. While some members of Congress say they were fully aware of what was going on, others have insisted that there needs to be hearings to figure out exactly what is going on.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Could Franklin ever have imagined a world with the dangers that we face today? Could he have possibly foreseen an enemy’s ability to fly a missile into a skyscraper killing nearly 3,000 people. Could he have envisioned a rogue group placing a dirty bomb near Times Square with a blast radius that encompassed several million people.

One day there will be another attack like the ones that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. How will we feel if we figure out that we didn’t do everything we could have done to prevent an attack? Is giving up our right to absolute privacy worth the possible lives that could be saved?


–Matthew Nash doesn’t mind who is seeing his Internet search history as long as it is not his mother.  He can be reached at