Editorial: Time for more fine tuning

 Pennsylvania’s del­eg­a­tion in the U.S. House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives split al­most evenly last week when it came time to vote on an amend­ment that would have cut off fund­ing for the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency pro­gram that col­lects data on the phone calls Amer­ic­ans make.

  Eight Pennsylvania mem­bers voted for the meas­ure, and nine voted against. Over­all, the meas­ure was de­feated, 205-217, in a vote that was clearly a wakeup call to the White House and Sen­ate and House lead­ers that big changes in na­tion­al se­cur­ity pro­grams are com­ing fast.

  Only one Pennsylvania Demo­crat, Allyson Schwartz, voted against the amend­ment. She said the meas­ure “did not achieve the crit­ic­al bal­ance between na­tion­al se­cur­ity and civil liber­ties.”

  A neigh­bor­ing law­maker, Re­pub­lic­an Mike Fitzpatrick from Bucks County, saw things dif­fer­ently and voted to cut off the pro­gram’s fund­ing. “To­night, I stand on the side of per­son­al liberty,” he said. 

  We ap­plaud both Schwartz and Fitzpatrick for vot­ing their con­sciences on such a key is­sue.

    The vote in Wash­ing­ton and the un­ease around the coun­try about the mass col­lec­tion of phone data — though not the con­tent of the phone calls them­selves — was un­leashed when Ed­ward Snowden, an NSA con­tract­or, re­leased secret in­form­a­tion about mass sur­veil­lance pro­grams. He re­mains holed up in a Mo­scow air­port, a man cur­rently without a coun­try or a pass­port.

  Some call him a whis­tleblower and oth­ers say he is a trait­or. But what is cer­tain is that his il­leg­al act has promp­ted an im­port­ant con­ver­sa­tion in this coun­try about pri­vacy rights and the bal­ance between na­tion­al se­cur­ity and per­son­al liberty. 

    Look for the House and Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tees and the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee to re­write the rules on gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance.

  More over­sight is com­ing, and that’s a good thing for our coun­try. The bal­ance between per­son­al liberty and na­tion­al se­cur­ity is del­ic­ate, and like any fine in­stru­ment, re­quires con­stant fine-tun­ing. ••

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

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