Editorial voices from elsewhere
Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad as compiled by the Associated Press:
The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.
The White House and a bipartisan Congress finally appear to moving in the right direction with plans to end mass telephone data collection by the National Security Agency.
If implemented properly, the plans will answer the main criticisms of the NSA program by ending the mass capture of all U.S. telephone “metadata” on a daily basis, the retention of this data by the government for five years and its availability to intelligence analysts without a specific judge’s order.
Telephone companies would be required to keep the metadata they collect on every call for billing and other company purposes for the 18 months already prescribed by the Federal Communications Commission, but with the added requirement that they keep it in a specific form required by the federal government to facilitate accountability.
Under the president’s proposal, intelligence agencies would have to get a judge’s order for a specific search before they could access any of the metadata. This is clearly preferable to the House proposal that a judge grant broad access and only review a query once it had been answered by a telephone company.
The government, in searching the databases, would be limited to two “hops,” meaning it could look for information on the initial suspect’s number, numbers it connected with, and numbers that the first “hop” batch of numbers connected with. While that is better than previous practice, it is still a pretty large universe of numbers, representing the phone records of many American citizens. The role of the federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in overseeing such searches will remain a critical safeguard.
The approach, while still sketchy, has won conditional approval from privacy advocates including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The proposals still have to be enacted into law this year before existing authority, known as section 215 of the Patriot Act, expires. In the process, Congress needs to review other NSA programs that have taken an expansive view of the reach of Section 215, such as the alleged mass surveillance of emails.
If the Internal Revenue Service was auditing you, and you whined that getting all the documentation agents wanted was too hard and would take you years, what do you think the response would be? Exactly.
Yet that’s the game IRS chief John Koskinen is playing with the U.S. House Government Oversight and Reform Committee. Apparently, turnabout is not fair play in IRS Land.
At issue is how the IRS handled applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups, and what Koskinen says will be millions of communications involving his agency, White House officials and others.
A leading member of the committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told Koskinen, “We don’t want the excuses anymore. Prioritize it. Put more lawyers on the job. All means all.”
Under this flurry of paper is the fact that the IRS has already disclosed that agency employees flagged groups that mentioned “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for nonprofit status or were involved in “limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement.”
Add to that the fact Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the controversy, has twice refused to answer Oversight committee questions, and may be held in contempt of Congress and turned over to federal prosecutors.
According to IRS.gov, the agency’s mission is to “provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.” That mission statement makes this stonewalling all the more unacceptable – and just as offensive as if a different party was in the White House and a different party was asking the questions.