This week has been a bad one for those concerned about the security of Americans' digital communications. First, the Guardian reported that the National Security Agency has a long standing arrangement with at least one telecommunications provider, Verizon, to collect data on cell phone calls, including the numbers, location and duration of the call's participants. The Washington Post then broke the news that a National Security Agency program known as PRISM allows the agency to collect a drove of data on Internet users.
"The stories published over the last two days make clear that the NSA – part of the military – now has direct access to every corner of Americans' digital lives," said American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer in a statement. "These revelations are a reminder that Congress has given the executive branch far too much power to invade individual privacy." U.S. News' Brad Bannon wrote that the news "illustrates the dangerous extension of unbridled executive power over national security that has developed since World War II."
The administration defended the programs, saying they are critical to protecting the nation from terrorist threats. "The intelligence community is conducting court-authorized intelligence activities pursuant to public statute with the knowledge and oversight of Congress," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
The reaction among lawmakers has been mixed, with some condemning the programs and others singing their praises. "The United States should not be accumulating phone records on tens of millions of innocent Americans … That is not what freedom is about," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, "I'm a Verizon customer. I don't mind Verizon turning over records to the government if the government is going to make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist phone with somebody in the United States." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. added: "Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn't anything that is brand new."
So should Americans be concerned about the National Security Agency data collection? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Shayana Kadidal Senior Managing Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights
Jonathan Turley Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University
Alberto R. Gonzales Former United States Attorney General
John Yoo Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice