The U.S. government has been looking and often gathering and collecting data on almost every phone call, website visited, and credit card transaction we make. In case you want to get caught up one this issue which hit the news world hard yesterday, this article on the National Security Agency (NSA) program called Prism is a good quick start. Here's a juicy quote of a quote from the article:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.

The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

While it's hard to feel happy about this, could it be necessary to prevent another 9/11? If it did prevent something like a nuclear device being detonated in Chicago killing a million people, would it be worth it? Does this revelation give the bad guys notice that they need a new way to stay in touch?

Obviously, a government needs some secrecy, but how much is too much?

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I never said it was a dichotomy, nor did I depict it that way. Getting rid of Prism is just a choice with potentially horrific consequences.

Planning involves brainstorming, aka flights of fancy.

The scenario you describe has several fatal flaws, the leading one being impracticality and the impossibility of getting it past the public whereas, at least for now, it seems the majority seems willing to accept Prism. (In fact, I suspect most assumed it was going on.)

WMDs. That's the primary context (imo) where this conversation could make sense. Adding to your "what if" scenarios, what if it's more likely that North Korea could source WMDs, while prism (and the majority of our population/sheep) are more concerned with homeland terror cell chatter?

Unseen- and keeping prism  is not assurance of stopping those potentially horrific consequences. Keeping it could also lead to potentially horrific consequences

I think you'll find that most Americans will accept a virtually invisible loss of privacy in their electronic communications in exchange for just the POSSIBLE prevention of another 9/11 or something much much worse.

I am not as sure about that as you . You can bring up that poll but it was not worded in a way that accurately represents our current situation and we know how wording alone influences a poll . It is also very early yet and there is likely a lot more to this  story that will still  come to light.

You may be right, but I think most people will give up privacy if the intrusion is invisible and as long as Big Brother isn't commenting on what they say unless they, for example, talk about blowing up Milwaukee or kidnapping Obama's kids or something, as long as Prism MIGHT possibly stop a major terror attack.

If Prism violates the 4th Amendment, I wouldn't be surprised if there turned out to be enough interest to amend the amendment.

"and as long as Big Brother isn't commenting on what they say unless they, for example, talk about blowing up Milwaukee"

And just how long do you think that is going to be? Every  government ends up abusing powers  , especially ones these that are so cloaked in secrecy.Look at the church comitee or your recent IRS scandal.

As I often say, if we can only use the methods to fight terrorism that can't ever be abused, what are we left with? 

Answer: that leaves nothing. 

And as you imply and as both Strega and I often point out, it's impossible to keep a secret, especially in Washington. Do you have any idea how many people are involved in Prism? The "secret" was bound to come out.

It is not all or nothing on that choice. Virtually everyone is fine with the normal system of getting a warrant from a judge for a specific person. And it is  not like that has never been abused. The question is just how much potential for abuse are we willing to hand the government to be somewhat more effective at stopping terrorists.

Headline on British newspaper The Telegraph today:

Is Edward Snowden's story unravelling? Why the Guardian's scoop is looking a bit dodgy.

Now that the dust has settled after the Edward Snowden affair, it’s time to ask some tough questions about The Guardian’s scoop of the week. Snowden’s story is that he dropped a $200,000 a year job and a (very attractive) girlfriend in Hawaii for a life in hiding in Hong Kong in order to expose the evils of the NSA's Prism programme. But bits of the story are now being questioned. (read more)

NSA director: Data mining follows law, thwarts terror

CNN:  Phone records obtained by the government through a secret surveillance program disclosed last week helped to prevent "dozens" of terrorist acts, the director of the National Security Agency told a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

Army Gen. Keith Alexander provided the most detailed account so far from a government official of the program in which the agency collects phone records that then can be accessed under federal court permission to investigate suspected terrorists.

The scope of the secret program -- potentially involving phone records of every American -- set off a political firestorm when details emerged with publication of a leaked document.

Further leaks revealed other secret programs that collect computer activity and other information.

Critics on the right and left accused the government of going well beyond the intended reach of the Patriot Act enacted after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Questioned by senators from both parties at a hearing on broader cybersecurity issues, Alexander provided a spirited defense for the programs he described as critical to counter-terrorism efforts.

"I think what we're doing to protect American citizens here is the right thing," he said. "Our agency takes great pride in protecting this nation and our civil liberties and privacy, and doing it in partnership with this committee, with this Congress, and with the courts."

Alexander added that he welcomed a public debate over protecting America while preserving civil liberties.

"To date, we've not been able to explain it because it's classified, so that issue is something that we're wrestling with," he said. "... This isn't something that's just NSA or the administration doing that and so on. This is what ... our nation expects our government to do for us. So, we ought to have that debate. We ought to put it out there."

In the end, he said, some aspects of the giant surveillance apparatus created after 9/11 would have to remain classified.

"And they should be, because if we tell the terrorists every way that we are going to track them, they will get through and Americans will die," he said. (Read more at CNN)


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