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Letter: Judicial Oversight Is Essential

To the Editor:

Two concerns arise out of the collection of data by the National Security Agency and other government agencies: The collection of personal data may be misused so as to threaten or harm us, and data collection and its analysis may not be sufficient to protect us against terrorism.

Verizon, ATT, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and others already know pretty nearly everything the government could know about us without actually listening to our conversations. With some exceptions, these companies use the information to market to us, and the government uses it to protect us.

The risk, of course, is that the information may be misused. And there are countless instances of such abuse in this country and others. Personal information can be used to: steal from our bank accounts; put charges on our credit cards; defraud, harass, blackmail or even kidnap, jail, or assassinate us; and subvert the democratic process.

The remedy is not to attempt to limit or prevent the collection of information that is already out there. That is an unavoidable consequence of our use of electronic communication. An effort to block government access to this data has virtually no chance of succeeding and would result in huge risks to our safety and security at a time when terrorists and other potential enemies have increasing access to cyber and weapons technology.

The remedy is to establish effective and, to the extent possible, open judicial monitoring of the collection and use of this information and to enact legislation that would subject to lengthy jail terms and severe financial penalties anyone, especially government employees or contractors, who conceal or are complicit in its abuse.

Andrew Stewart