The following are excerpts of editorials appearing in other newspapers across New England:
Wanna know a secret?
Congressional legislation that would have curtailed the federal government’s bulk collection of telephone records was moving along, supported by privacy advocates, when it was needlessly watered down. Supporters of the move might argue that the bill was amended, though only a wee bit.
But the small change was a big deal. So much so, in fact, that many of the outside groups previously backing the measure have now withdrawn their support.
While it’s a slight exaggeration to call the amendment maneuver a secret, it most assuredly wasn’t done with a whole lot of fanfare. The change, in fact, was worked out in closed-door negotiations.
The bill would allow a court order or subpoena for records collection to be issued only if a “specific selection term” pertains.
But the amended measure broadens the definition of that expression, perhaps allowing government spooks to keep grabbing huge troves of data. Is a ZIP code a specific selection term? How about all the records from a certain bank? The comings and goings and other doings of all the guests at a specific hotel? Given an inch, federal spies might well take much more than a mile.
In the year since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the American people’s government was spying on the citizens -- on folks suspected of nothing at all -- calls for change have gone exactly nowhere. Finally, it had seemed, something was about to be done. Until now.
The amended legislation would give added cover to undercover operations -- by making changes that would be merely cosmetic. Lawmakers and the White House and those who support the domestic spying operations could say that they listened to the people and heeded their call for transparency. And yet the people’s telephone records -- and who knows what all else -- could still be swept up by an overreaching, overzealous surveillance apparatus that treats everyone as a suspect. The people need to see this bill for the sham that it is.