Security/privacy debate hinges on trust

Last week’s online poll question – Which is more important to you, security or privacy? – found views rather evenly divided.

That’s not surprising. As two of our word-on-the-street respondents stated, security and privacy are equally important.

Plus, Benjamin Franklin’s statement notwithstanding, security still is essential to preserving freedoms, including the right to be left alone.

Franklin and his contemporaries lived through the Stamp Act, enforced by British soldiers whose suspicions alone could warrant searches of colonists’ homes in an effort to ascertain whether documents contained therein did indeed bear the requisite stamps.

The controversy over snooping by the National Security Agency involves electronic data – phone call records and emails. It may be an invasion of privacy, but it’s not a home invasion.

The story broke when a government contractor told of a secret NSA effort to collect records of phone calls. That was described as an effort to connect the dots between terrorists networks – to find who is contacting whom. No one, we’re told, is listening to our phone calls.

Then the source told of a program to collect and, with a secret court’s blessing, read emails.

These relevations won’t bother some folks. For others, their views depend on whether the NSA can be trusted not to monitor our communications. And recently, our trust in federal institutions has been shaken.

The NSA?controversy comes on the heels of two other scandals. The Internal Revenue Service had targeted certain nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny, and the Department of Justice obtained phone records belonging to The Associated Press. Both actions smack of partisan politics.

Perhaps what America needs is a National Privacy Agency. But how could we trust the federal government to run it?