---- — Excerpts from the editorials of other New England newspapers:
By now readers are aware government agencies are collecting wholesale data from their phone company, called metadata, which can reveal who you have been calling and when. Likewise for your email. Now comes a disturbing report from The New York Times that the United States Postal Service is cooperating with the government to do the same and even more:
“Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: a handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.
“ ‘Show all mail to supv’ — supervisor — ‘for copying before going out on the street,’ read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word ‘confidential’ was highlighted in green.”
The news report goes on to explain Pickering was targeted under an FBI program which asks postal officials to capture the information on the cover of letters coming from names on a hit list.
Pickering got on the list because, according to The Times, “more than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group labeled ecoterrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation” — a role he long ago abandoned.
As the Times reports, Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year.
We understand and accept the need for some level of secrecy and surveillance in order to keep our nation secure. But we also know the history of a government that at times has kept too many secrets from its people.
With all this is it any wonder “trust in federal government remains mired near a historic low,” according to a Pew Research study — something worth considering when our politicians coming knocking our door during the next election cycle.
— Foster’s Daily Democrat of Dover, N.H., July 17
A report issued and discussed at a July 16 forum at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., points to a troubling new trend, one that shows exactly how rattled our nation has become in the wake of national scandals.
According to the 2013 State of the First Amendment, a third of Americans, or 34 percent, believe the 1st Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees. While a majority of Americans still say it does not go too far, the gap is increasing at an alarming rate. This year, there was a significant increase — up from 13 percent in 2012 — in those people who claimed that the First Amendment goes too far in protecting individual rights.
Regrettably, it seems, domestic terrorism, scandals involving the Internal Revenue Service and the National Security Administration, and fears of overreaching by the Obama administration have eroded the very rights that have come to distinguish America from the rest of the world.
The good news: Eighty percent agreed it is important for our democracy that the news media act as an independent “watchdog” over government on behalf of the public; and 46 percent believe that “the news media try to report the news without bias,” the highest number since the survey began asking the question in 2004. The bad news: Nearly half of respondents said the news media are biased, and they do not trust what they read, view or hear. In addition, an overwhelming number, 74 percent, of Americans say they are “more likely to get most of their news from a news media source that has similar political views to their own.”
— The Rutland (Vt.) Herald, July 18, 2013