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PRISM program renews civil liberty vs. national security debate

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Amarillo, TX - A recently revealed program has allowed the U.S. government to monitor both your phone and your computer for at least the last decade - and it's all been perfectly legal.  And Sunday's (Jun. 9) revelation has renewed public debate about the scope of government power.

Historically, U.S. government power has expanded in times of war, and the Patriot Act of 2001 gave the National Security Administration access to our phone records.  And now we're just learning of a longtime top-secret program that monitors internet traffic as well.

"PRISM" allows the NSA to monitor internet service providers, search engines, and social media, ostensibly to identify possible terroristic threats before they happen. Now civil libertarians and defense hawks are trying to strike a balance between personal privacy and personal security.

"When you talk about national security, you're obviously talking about the rights of the many, and their right to be protected from terrorism and terrorist attacks," explains Dr. James Calvi, a political science professor at WTAMU.  "On the other hand, you have the right of the individual, and basically that boils down to being left alone by your government."

Our U.S. representative Rep. Mac Thornberry wasn't available for comment this afternoon, but he defends such programs as vital to our security, as he writes in a Facebook statement:

"This country was founded with a healthy skepticism of government. Programs like this should, and do, receive constant oversight. Because of that oversight ... I believe this program preserves our liberties while making us safer."

In an interview, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said it's impossible to have both total security and total privacy, saying,

"...I find it a little ironic that several weeks ago after the Boston bombings, we were accused of not being sufficiently intrusive ... I don't mean to be a smart guy here, it's just emblematic of the serious debate that goes on in this country between the two poles of security, civil liberties and privacy ... The challenge for us is navigating between those two poles.  It's not an either or.  There has to be that balance so that we protect our country and also protect civil liberties and privacy."

Under the provisions of PRISM, the NSA still needs a court order to obtain data from a specific person.  In spite of that, the American Civil Liberties Union is filing a lawsuit against the federal government on grounds the program violates our constitutional rights.  But since current federal law allows such a program, it's unlikely the suit will be anything more than a symbolic gesture.

"It would be as if someone were surprised we executed a person after passing a capital punishment law," says Dr. Calvi, "If the law gives the government the authority to do this, why are we shocked that the government is, in fact, doing this?"

If you'd like to learn more about the program itself, the ACLU's stance, or read the interview with Director Clapper, follow the links attached to this story.

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