Supporters of government secrecy and the mass monitoring of citizens are breathing a sigh of relief.
That’s because an effort to defund the National Security Agency’s broad-based collection of telephone and Internet records failed by a narrow margin in the House Wednesday.
The Obama administration and many congressional leaders fought hard to protect the program, warning that its repeal would endanger the nation. Despite that, a sizable segment of lawmakers from across the political spectrum voted to withhold funds. The final vote was 217-205 to retain the program.
So the NSA will continue to collect data as part of a still-secret effort. The specific extent of this program is unclear. What is known follows leaks by former NSA private contractor Edward Snowden, who is now hiding out in Moscow’s airport to avoid arrest by the U.S. government.
We have previously expressed our concern about the scope of this program, and various assurances from the government since it was revealed have failed to resolve the matter.
To the contrary, conflicting statements, combined with sudden pledges to have an open debate related to the program, have made it clear that there are problems. It doesn’t help that even though the Obama administration said members of Congress were informed about what the NSA was doing, many lawmakers obviously knew nothing about it.
As a result of this week’s vote, the NSA efforts — whatever they are — will go on. Congressional opponents of the NSA program say they will continue to fight it, and well they should. More than that, they and the American public need to demand the open discussion that has been promised.
We think more oversight is needed regarding NSA activities. Government bureaucracies tend to put their own interests first, and if gobbling up all sorts of unnecessary data is deemed desirable, the NSA will do it. The demands of a free society become secondary.
It is essential that NSA monitoring efforts be brought to heel now. The United States government is pumping ever-more money into its data collection efforts. Whatever it is gathering today may look to be quaint compared to what it will do tomorrow.