The Best Synopsis I have Seen of the "NSA Problem" - From Comments at Ars Technica

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I yield the mike to "flatrock19":

I keep seeing indications that people think that a lack of public transparency means a lack of oversight. However, that is not how our country's constitution was written or how our government and legal system is set up.

Of course when the constitution was written there was no way for the public in general to provide oversight. There was no internet, and new was often passed on somewhat erratically in many areas. However, the constitution does provide an amendment process by which it can be changed as our country's needs change, and it hasn't been changed.

Our government has three branches, each of which have responsibility to oversee the working of the other two branches. The NSA is part of the executive branch, and Congress and the courts are supposed to be providing oversight. The NSA is supposed to go to the FISA court for authorization, and the Senate and House intelligence committees are supposed to be making sure the court and the NSA are doing their jobs properly. They have the authority to subpoena and question those involved under oath.

We elect representatives that are supposed to be our voices in the discussion of how the intelligence community operates and what constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure.

I would think that if we are concerned about how the NSA might be abusing their authority and that it isn't getting proper oversight we should look at who is on the FISA court and how Judges are appointed to that court. Having the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court simply appoint whoever they choose without them facing any form of confirmation seems to be a bit weak of a safeguard. I'm also not impressed by who is on the congressional intelligence committees. I'm not really impressed by many members of congress in general, but I think there are better choices for such important committees. I also think that it is a very bad thing that new people aren't routed through these committees. It is good to have experienced people on a committee, but they also need some fresh faces from time to time.

As for more public transparency, congress can legislate that there needs to be more transparency but the constitution doesn't require it, and the intelligence community is going to risk (resist? - ed.)anything that may make it easier for their targets to discover their methods or their sources. The executive branch desires the best intelligence they can get so they can make more informed decisions and less guesses.

The courts are there to uphold the constitution and make sure the laws are being implemented properly. They have to balance the needs of the public against the rights of the individual and determine if a particular type of search or seizure is "reasonable".

These are difficult tasks that it is easy for arm chair quarterbacks to criticize with the benefit of hindsight, and without all the fact. Facts that they often can't be given for reasons that they can't be told beyond something vague like national security.

I think it would be a good idea to force a new look at how the members of the FISA court and the intelligence committees get their positions and if we need to modify those, but I don't see widespread public disclosure on how the intelligence community operates as being practical.

Last built: Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 2:56 PM

By Don Hodges, Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 1:06 PM. We don't need no stinkin rock stars.