As Congress examines electronic surveillance and privacy issues in the wake of the NSA revelations, we are pleased that increasingly members on both sides of the aisle are realizing what is at stake in this issue, and voiced support this week for preserving the freedoms our founding fathers envisioned.
Addressing the current surveillance controversy, former Judiciary Committee Chairman Sensenbrenner, a prime author of the Patriot Act, wrote in Tuesday’s Politico ” This is how freedom is lost — bit by bit, one secret decision at a time, out of necessity or for some higher purpose that we later come to regret. Such abuses must be reined in, and no false trade-off between freedom and security should be allowed to be decided behind closed doors ever again.” Subsequent to the important earlier letter sent by Chairman Sensenbrenner in June, several bipartisan bills and amendments have surfaced as members from across the spectrum focus on the state of surveillance in America. We expect the recent House floor vote is just the beginning, not the end of the need for members to continue to address this issue.
A recent speech by Senator Ron Wyden on the same day at the Center for American Progress is exceptionally noteworthy. I have been involved in government surveillance issues for decades during my time at the State Department, while on the Hill, and now as the leader of a 40 year-old technology trade association – the Computer & Communications Industry Association, yet this speech stands out as especially important and poignant. Senator Wyden brilliantly denounces the false choice between privacy and security and summed up the crossroads, which we are now at as a nation.
As Wyden said, “If we do not seize this unique moment in our constitutional history to reform our surveillance laws and practices, we are all going to live to regret it.” We in the technology industry couldn’t agree more. We believe the fundamental structure of our Constitution relating to checks and balances is based on an insightful understanding of human nature. That structure which recognizes the risks of unchecked power when combined with meaningful open transparent government procedures, and good faith application of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments is our bulwark preventing the erosion of our liberty.
I would describe Wyden’s speech as the “Paul Revere” warning of our time and his caution that a super secret surveillance state is coming contains key information for those who will be reviewing these polices. Text and video of the speech are available at:
This is a time for deep thoughtful nonpartisan patriotism, and it seems to be flourishing.