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Gov. Chris Christie has never been a particularly distinguished champion of freedom, but his recent comments and outright defense of the NSA’s illegal spying program was eyebrow raising even for him.
In a speech delivered Monday, Christie said: "all these fears are exaggerated and ridiculous. When it comes to fighting terrorism our government is not the enemy, and we should not be listening to people like Edward Snowden."
Now, reasonable people can disagree about whether Snowden’s actions were appropriate, but there is no doubt that the information he revealed was important, and shocking to anyone who cares about the privacy of innocent people, or indeed about the Constitution. Despite the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the NSA’s metadata collection program is not authorized, the agency has been using Section 215 of the Patriot Act as justification for sweeping up vast quantities of telephone data from people not accused, or even suspected of any wrongdoing. Without specific warrants, this is a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure.
The government may not be the enemy, as Christie says in a typical example of hyperbole, but we should all be concerned when intelligence agencies are willing and able to abuse their power against innocent people. And when it comes to fighting terrorism, the intelligence community has not been able to produce evidence that these programs have actually stopped any terrorist attacks, or apprehended any actual terrorists. In that sense, the Governor’s comments are a red herring designed to scare people into trading away their privacy in exchange for no perceptible benefit to their safety.
Christie went on to critique the current debate on surveillance reform as being “dominated by intellectual purists worried about theoretical abuses that have not occurred.”
Here, the governor is either misinformed or willfully misleading his audience. No one is talking about “theoretical abuses.” These are actual abuses that are happening right now. If you’ve used a cell phone in the last year, chances are that your data has been collected. That is an abuse, and it’s not the only one. We’ve also seen instances of NSA employees using this technology to spy on their love interests in their spare time, which is as creepy as it is illegal.
If wanting my government to follow the Constitution and get a warrant before spying on me makes me an intellectual purist, then it’s a label I’ll wear with pride. Governor Christie’s comments reveal that he places next to no value on our country’s founding documents, and the rights and liberties of its citizens.