Panel explores tradeoffs between privacy, security
By Mary Rezac, Nebraska News Service
LINCOLN–A panel of state and national experts discussed the trade-offs between privacy and security Monday night at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
The issue came into the spotlight in May when Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the National Security Agency. Hired by a private contractor working for the NSA, Snowden has said he felt it was his duty to let citizens know that their information wasn’t safe: phone records, e-mails, social media interactions and instant messaging conversations are all fair game to be collected by the NSA.
The NSA responded that the information gathered was used to track security threats and terrorist groups, not to keep tabs on private citizens.
Panelists agreed that whether the NSA should exist is not the question, but rather how then agency’s resources are used.
“The NSA is an incredibly important tool, but I’m very concerned about the loss of civil liberties as an effect of excessive zeal on their part,” said Doug Bereuter, who served as the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence during his time as a congressman from Nebraska’s 1st District.
“I was on Capitol Hill the day when 9/11 occurred,” Bereuter said, “and the Department of Homeland Security was kind of papered together and passed hurriedly. We’re still seeing the effects of that.”
Danielle Conrad, a Lincoln attorney and a member of the Nebraska Legislature, said Americans have a right to demand reform from their government. “If [due to war] we’re giving up our freedoms, giving up our security, and we experience a loss of privacy…it begs the question whether they’ve won?” Conrad said.
Conrad said the current scale of dragnet information gathering is like the Watergate scandal, only “times a million.” Americans are unaware of the extent or purpose of government surveillance of them, she said. “Where’s the outrage?”
A third panelist, Roger Lempke, is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and former adjutant general of the Nebraska National Guard and since retiring has been director of military affairs for U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns. Lempke said there are two sides to the security coin–data gathering and data analysis. “September 11 wasn’t a failure of data gathering but of data analysis,” Lempke said.
“The data was all there. The emphasis [of this debate] seems to be on the collection of data, when the real question is are we really doing good analytics?”
W. Don Nelson, publisher of Prairie Fire newspaper in Nebraska and state director for U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson from 2001 to 2006, said citizens should be wary of an over-correction when it comes to security.
For example, Nelson said, “by all rights the university could have metal detectors in every building” because of recent school shootings. “And before you know it, it would look like North Korea here,” Nelson said. “Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.”
Bereuter, who served in the House of Representatives from 1979-2004, said that while he’s glad that the Snowden case has brought security efforts under greater scrutiny and demand for accountability, he believes Snowden could have gone about his whistle-blowing differently.
“It’s good that the information is out there so we’re assessing risks,” Bereuter said. “But there were ways to bring it to our attention without being charged with theft and violating the Espionage Act twice.”
Conrad said concerned citizens have the right and the responsibility to make their privacy and freedom concerns heard.
“We can’t just throw up our hands in the air and give up; that apathy feeds into the results that our enemies desire,” she said.
“We have to speak out, we have to write to our representation, we have to use our social media and blogs to make our voices heard. That’s what we do as engaged informed citizens in a democracy; those are the greatest powers we have.”
Contact Mary Rezac at email@example.com.