Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Strange Bedfellows Indeed

The Snowden kerfluffle has produced a rare congruence of opinion.  House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the elusive, 29-year-old former intelligence contractor a "traitor."  Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also called the disclosure "an act of treason" and said Snowden should be prosecuted.  Just because I think Senator Feinstein has not read it it might be useful to remind us the Constitutional definition - (Article 3, Section 3)  Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.”
From my perspective we need to separate the disclosure that Snowden did (and the opportunity it presents) with the broader issues of public policy.  Surprisingly ( perhaps even for the first time) I find myself agreeing with the Senate Majority Leader who counseled that it might be a good idea to calm down.

Most Americans understand, perhaps better than officials like Boehner and Feinstein, that we need to have a balance between the need for security and the competing need for privacy.  The Patriot Act was adopted in the heat of the moment and like most other laws, it probably could benefit from some review.  The ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee seems to have gotten this balance right.  In a HUFFPOST article he said. "Congress needs to debate this issue and determine what tools we give to our intelligence community to protect us from a terrorist attack," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and a backer of the surveillance. "Really it's a debate between public safety, how far we go with public safety and protecting us from terrorist attacks versus how far we go on the other side."
Supporting a reasonable review of programs like PRISM, gives nothing to the terrorists and at the same time takes nothing away from our intelligence efforts.  Security types have caused some major changes in the last couple of decades.  Some may be necessary.  But others seem to operate for the benefit/convenience of the security people.  Having a less open society may be necessary in some areas, but those changes should not be agreed to in the heat of the moment and then continued forever.  I am not sure what if anything should be done to the leaker but ignoring this as an opportunity to think about policies with a bit more balance seems prudent. 

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