You Gotta Watch Him!

Our View: The Nsa Overreached When It Started Spying On U.s. Citizens At Home

April 20, 2009

The public needs to hear more about how the National Security Agency has been improperly tapping into the domestic communications of American citizens and what has been done with the information collected.

The Justice Department confirmed last week that it had reined in the NSA's wiretapping activities in the United States after learning that the super-secret spy agency headquartered at Fort Meade had improperly accessed American phone calls and e-mails while eavesdropping on foreign communications. Justice officials discovered the problems during a routine review of NSA wiretapping. The government's action was first divulged Wednesday by The New York Times.

The National Security Agency has since admitted that it listened in on millions of private phone calls and e-mail messages exchanged by U.S. citizens over the last few months. Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly demanded tough new safeguards against domestic spying before agreeing to the reauthorization of the electronic surveillance programs.

His attitude toward the agency reminds us of the old Groucho Marx joke: "He's honest - but you gotta watch him!" Except there's nothing funny about the spy agency's overreaching.

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee has promised to hold a hearing to determine the full extent of the improper spying. The hearing will be behind closed doors, but the public should get a full report on how and why the NSA has crossed agreed-upon boundaries and what has happened to the information inappropriately collected.

The continuing struggle against terrorists is real, but it's no excuse for abandoning the principle of lawful constitutional government we're supposed to be fighting to uphold. If the NSA's pursuit of the terrorists violates our citizens' constitutional right to personal privacy, our own civil liberties have been seriously threatened.

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