Lawsuits Debate Privacy versus Safety

Dennis Faas's picture

"Privacy no longer can mean anonymity. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information."

That was Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald Kerr, who recently called for a new perspective on privacy as Congress scrambles to address complaints concerning the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for a second time. Last summer, lawmakers hurriedly loosened the restraints on the bill, allowing government officials to tap into phone calls without a court order on the grounds that there was reason to believe one of the conversation participants was foreign. Now with lawsuits pending, Americans are forced to redefine long-time convictions on laissez-faire. (Source:

The act originally required a court order to eavesdrop on telephone calls in order to protect Americans' privacy rights. However, after the 9/11 New York City attacks, the White House contested, stating this obstructed intelligence gathering due to the augmenting amount of contact with parties outside the United States.

With 40 wiretapping suits pending, officials are deciding whether the telecommunications providers that granted the government access to consumers' private conversations from 2001 to 2007 will be held accountable.

Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said "It's just another 'trust us, we're the government'" argument. The foundation filed the class-action suit, claiming that there are over 20 sites across the country that serve as a hub for mass surveillance. One such location, an AT&T office in San Francisco, funnelled telecommunications, including email, phone calls, and information on accessed Internet sites, and stored the information in a government database. (Source:

While Congress hopes to resolve this issue by Thanksgiving, the White House has declared it will veto a bill that does not grant immunity to the businesses that provided assistance to government officials.

Kerr, who believes society's views are "antiquated," suggests that there be a balance between the role of the government and constitutional rights. Now, Americans must answer a question that's been a long-time coming; "How much freedom are you willing to sacrifice for safety?"

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