Saturday, April 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Roll back federal snooping

President Barack Obama is moving in the right direction to end the federal government's abuse of its massive collection of telephone records. Speaking at a summit in Europe, Obama said the administration's proposed overhaul would better balance national security with legitimate privacy concerns. The changes would be a good start, but the president should first end the bulk collection of Americans' telephone records rather than continue to invade their privacy while waiting for Congress to approve his reforms.

While the administration has not publicly announced the details, the New York Times reported this week that under the proposal the National Security Agency would no longer routinely collect the data from the millions of phone calls Americans place every day. Instead, that data would remain with the telephone companies, which would have to maintain the records for 18 months, a current industry standard. Authorities could seek a court order forcing the carriers to supply the data quickly and in a usable format, and the government also could obtain records from phones two calls or "hops" away from a number under suspicion.

These changes would better protect the public against the wholesale invasion of privacy that occurs now under the bulk collection program. Officials would have to obtain a judge's order to retain the records, which at least provides a standard for law enforcement to meet. As a practical matter, removing this data from the immediate orbit of the security services and leaving it with the private sector reduces the opportunity for fishing trips and abusive prosecution. The retention requirements for the carriers also is shorter than the five years that the government currently keeps the records.

Obama's proposal, however, still leaves serious questions. While codifying the changes through federal law could keep future administrations in line, why does this administration plan to retain the status quo for months or longer as it works with Congress to change the law? Nothing prevents the White House from narrowing the use of its authority under current law to slow or halt the program. So why condition these changes on reaching agreement with a Congress that hardly sees eye-to-eye on security with the Obama administration?

The proposal leaves silent, at least for now, whether it provides any real sense of due process in the judicial review. What will be the legal standard for granting the government access to the telephone records? Will the public interest be represented by legal counsel in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to challenge government requests for access to the data? Will the secret court report how often it approves the requests? Rather than keep the program on auto-renew until if and when Congress acts, Obama would be better off halting it.

This debate should not be about how to make the program more politically palatable but whether it serves a compelling national security interest. Negotiations on a framework for the future could compromise privacy by cementing a revised but still broad version of a surveillance program that sweeps up too many law-abiding Americans who have no knowledge this is occurring and no recourse to stop it. The president is headed in the right direction, but he should take bolder action and the conversation about the government's bulk collection of telephone records should be broader than how to refine it.

Comments
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...
Updated: 11 hours ago

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...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18