Only a glutton for verbal punishment or another attorney debates the law with a lawyer. Thus, I would not purport to argue privacy rights and laws with William DePaulo, who, in the July 26 Gazette, joined the hysterical mob wringing their hands over the National Security Agency's anti-terrorist electronic surveillance activities.
Indeed, as Mr. DePaulo said, the Fourth Amendment makes Americans "... secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects ..." I'm sure he will agree that those protections are not absolute and that there is a difference between intrusion into a citizen's physical residence or search of their bodies and interception of electronic impulses a sender places into airwaves which belong to us all. The idea that any of us, including the NSA since George Bush's Patriot Act, (or an investigative reporter), is not free to intercept those transmissions is absurd. The constitutional expectation of privacy ends when one leaves their home into the public arena or speaks aloud outside of it.
All that aside, let's address the paranoia versus practical aspects. Just as IRS agents have powers of investigation but not arrest (arrests are made by Special Agents, Secret Service), the NSA has no power to take someone into custody. The Army Security Agency (ASA) forwarded security breach information. NSA investigations must develop adequate evidence for the FBI and a U.S. attorney to concur that an offense has been committed.
Now let's rationally consider the sheer task of monitoring all the text, email and phone traffic in the USA every day. Sensationalist book panderers and TV babblers would have us imagine that there is someone sitting in a cubicle listening in on or reading every word we send every day. Of course, real-time monitoring 300 million Americans during three eight-hour shifts 24 hours a day would require 900 million people plus another 300 million to fill days-off swing shifts. So the idiocy of such a fantasy is evident.
Monitoring international radio traffic has gone on for a century. Friends of mine with high security clearances were stationed in the Arctic with absolutely no other task than to listen to and record Russian radio traffic, some of it in code, save that which contained key words and dump the rest. Since then, electronic transmissions have compounded geometrically, but the basics remain the same. Thus, if you communicate such words as jihad, bomb, detonator, etc. your message, high-speed scanned by computers, will likely be flagged for a closer look just as this, emailed to the newspaper, containing those words, likely will be.
The people gathering information and those who do the legwork and make arrests do not give a hoot in hell what you say or write to whom if you are a law-abiding citizen or even a petty criminal. They do not have the time or energy to waste on you. It is the height of narcissism to imagine that anyone cares one whit about your or my innocuous business or personal communications.
The NSA's task of protecting us against malicious lunatics and fanatics is a far bigger and quite daunting one. We should thank them every day for their diligence.
Cook is an author, artist and inventor who lives in Hurricane.