Let wiretapping leave a lasting impression

National political news stories, even the most controversial ones, seem to come and go like a fad. Some leave a lasting impression while some ... well, not so much. So try as I did to avoid any serious interest in the Edward Snowden controversy that dominated headlines this week – and I think will unfortunately be a non-story by month's end – it has proven unavoidable.

Edward Snowden, a systems administrator for a defense contractor in Hawaii, came forward Monday with a confession that he had released classified documents leaking US surveillance operations, and even claims that he had authority to wiretap anyone, from personal calls to calls made by a federal judge or even the president. Snowden's actions put him among the ranks of whistleblowers past, with the likes of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange (although Snowden, as one NY Times columnist pointed out, showed to have more regard for the information he leaked whereas Manning and Assange showed little or no judgement of what was leaked or how that information would be used).

Snowden's confession comes after it was revealed last month that the National Security Administration is collecting phone records and conducting email surveillance with no exceptions (at least none that we know of). News of these incidents has sparked outrage, and for good reason: it's infringement on Fourth Amendment rights and, though this is going to sound clichι, it ushers in a “1984” approach to governance.

While I would like to think there's nothing more shocking to add to the story, I read a report this week from NPR that immensely muddles the situation. According to NPR News, some analysts repudiate Snowden's claims, citing the implausibility of Snowden's assertion that he could wiretap anyone at any time. What's more, and perhaps more disturbing, is separate report of members of Congress who said they were never briefed about NSA surveillance techniques and had no recollection of wiretapping or email surveillance.

The situation is making it difficult to know who to believe: the government agencies that supposedly work for the people, or the people who are outing said government agencies? Personally, it's the claim of obscurity from some members of Congress regarding actions of the NSA that I find most upsetting in this catch-me-if-you-can-like drama that's unfolding. The Patriot Act first allowed roving wire taps in 2001, fortified in 2006; and information that the NSA has a database of Americans' phone calls has been reported several times over the years. It's unsettling, to say the least, that Congress, created to represent its constituents, can't even communicate with the agencies it deals with.

Lately, I've found myself asking the same question that's on everyone's mind: What is going on? Congress can't (or won't) function, NSA is performing wide-sweeping surveillance tactics that impedes constitutional sanctions, and Snowden – the man who was arguably looking out for civilian rights – is considered a traitor by some of the nation's highest ranking legislators for disclosing classified information. Such instances are what is synonymously referred to as “a country going to Hell in a hand basket.”

But as I said, political news stories, even controversial ones, seem to come and go. Let's hope this is one of the few that leaves an impression.

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