Snooping un-American


Lexington Herald-Leader

Mix fear of terrorism, modern technology and a power-hungry president. You get a database that should strike fear in the heart of any red-blooded American.

Just as frightening, three telephone companies gave the government millions of records of domestic calls without so much as a court order. Only Qwest said the National Security Agencys request violated privacy law and refused.

Even if you think the administrations motives are pure, history tells us that government will almost certainly abuse the unauthorized power to secretly monitor patterns of individual interactions. (Yes, we know the records include only numbers, but someone has the ability to link numbers with names and addresses, or the records would be useless to the NSA.)

Such government monitoring is a hallmark of the kind of totalitarianism that we supposedly went to war in Iraq to overthrow. Its not that big a leap from secret monitoring to secret police and secret prisons.

Nothing is more fundamental to U.S. democracy than the right to freely communicate and associate without fear of government surveillance. These rights were enshrined in the Constitution by people who understood that power is an irresistible temptation to tyranny. Modern U.S. history is replete with examples of government abusing its power. The Bush administration has used its intelligence capabilities to spy on peace activists.

In an era when we leave a track every time we turn on a cell phone, those constitutional rights need more vigilant protection than ever.

Its a nice coincidence that the NSA head who oversaw the telephone surveillance program is President Bushs nominee for CIA director and will come up for questioning in the Senate this week.

Lawmakers should grill Gen. Michael Hayden about why he approved this massive monitoring without notifying the courts or Congress.

And Congress should keep mining the Bush administration for details on its domestic spying programs.

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