Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Data collection needs limits

After pressure from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the Obama administration has been more forthcoming about its controversial program that sweeps up telephone records on millions of Americans. But its disclosures so far are not particularly illuminating or reassuring. As it stands, the National Security Agency's bulk data collection program is a dangerous weakening of the nation's principles that require individual suspicion before the government may snoop on Americans.

The overriding concern is that the NSA is stretching government power to collect information well beyond what Congress intended or the spirit of the Constitution allows. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, John Inglis, deputy NSA director, failed to make a convincing case that the bulk data program is effective in thwarting terror plots or that it is operating within legal bounds. The Obama administration released a few redacted documents before the hearing in an effort to show that the program is legal and targeted, but they didn't explain the underlying legal rationale for such a wholesale invasion of privacy.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows for the collection of private business records relevant to a terrorism investigation. The Obama administration, with the assent of the FISA court, has read this authority as essentially limitless. This is appropriately sparking bipartisan pushback. The Republican-controlled House came within seven votes of defunding the program, with Democratic support.

The Obama administration claims that to keep the spying program agile and useful it needs to collect massive databases of domestic phone call information, or metadata, which identifies numbers called, when and for how long. Privacy is safeguarded, says the administration, since only small slices of that data are examined when following terrorism leads.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a knowledgeable critic of the bulk collection program, says the administration is exaggerating the program's security benefits and knows of no intelligence that could not have been gathered using less intrusive and more exacting means. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., echoed those sentiments last week. Phone metadata provides insights into people's medical condition, when they call a doctor's office, political and social affiliations and other activities that could easily be abused by government.

Members of both parties are calling for reform of the program and the secret FISA court. In the last year, the court approved every one of the 1,856 applications presented to it by the government, though the government modified 40 of them. The court hears only the government's side and operates without public accountability. Surveillance of phone records should be limited to the targets of terror investigations, and the FISA court should be restructured to act as a real check on federal power. Its opinions should be public when it makes broad pronouncements interpreting the law, and a special public advocate should be appointed to argue in favor of civil liberties and the public interest before the court.

National security decisions require secrecy, but Americans shouldn't be blindsided by the breadth of government data collection or misled by senior administration officials.

Comments

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18