Skip to main content

Balancing liberty and security is a never-ending challenge

02/12/2014 01:59PM, Published by ACL, Categories: In Print, Opinion



By Lee H. Hamilton

Every few days, we learn yet one more way in which government’s expanded surveillance powers intrude upon our privacy and civil liberties.

Last week, it was the revelation that spy agencies in the U.S. and Britain have been snagging personal data from the users of mobile phone apps. Before that came news that the NSA was tracking our social connections; that it was delving into our contact lists; that it was logging our telephone calls; and that it had figured out how to conduct surveillance on some 100,000 computers around the world. It appears the agency can do anything it wants when it comes to collecting information on pretty much anyone it wants.

We can take pride in this technological virtuosity, but it has propelled an expansion of government power unlike anything I’ve seen since I joined Congress 50 years ago. The NSA’s surveillance and monitoring abilities are unprecedented and seem unlimited. So we face the crucial question of how we can we prevent abuse of the capabilities the NSA has been given. Our challenge is to put into place a permanent system to oversee that power.

The agency gained its capabilities over the course of at least a decade with the full knowledge of some members of Congress and the judiciary, and of the White House. This is perplexing. At a time of rising public suspicion of government, did those in the know really believe no public policy debate was necessary?

The intelligence community has convinced two presidents, leading members of Congress, and a series of judges that our safety depends on its ability to discover plots against us by tracking connections among adversaries. Although in the end federal data collection programs will continue and not fundamentally change, a spirited public debate about these spying powers is now under way, covering the scope, legality, costs and benefits of the programs.

The White House argues that there are elaborate “checks and balances” within the executive branch to prevent abuses. That’s commendable but insufficient under a separation of powers system. Congress has been timid, and the court overseeing the NSA has granted almost every request the agency has made. There is a lack of evidence that Congress and the courts provided pushback on any of the intelligence community’s initiatives to expand its power — they have been reliable and relatively uncritical allies of the intelligence community.

I do not see how we get the balance between liberty and security right unless the courts and the full Congress — not just certain committee members — get all the information they need and step up to their constitutional responsibilities to check and balance executive power.

At a minimum, then, Congress and the courts should do the job our system counts on them to do, and commit to rigorous and sustained oversight and, in the case of Congress, to legislative action to refine the laws governing federal surveillance. Congress should clarify the Patriot Act so that this massive power is clearly delineated and is relevant to an investigation into potential acts of terror. The legal foundation that the government has used simply does not provide an adequate basis for the program.

Government should not be entitled secretly to get information on anyone whenever it wants without more transparency, more information, more debate, more oversight, and additional constraints.

So Congress needs to address a lot of questions. Can intrusions into the lives of Americans be minimized without harm to national security? Isn’t public debate about the powers of government less a danger than to allow surveillance powers to grow in secret? What should be done when agencies besides the NSA seek these powers to catch drug dealers, say, or nuclear proliferators? What rights do citizens have to the information collected about them? Are the NSA’s powers to infringe on Americans’ privacy proportionate to the threat we actually face?

Sorting through these questions will be arduous and is the work of many years. Yet the public policy issues they raise are of enormous magnitude. Getting the balance right between liberty and security is a daunting job, and now is the time for the Congress and the courts to exert leadership.


Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Chester County's free newsletter to catch every headline



congress nsa lee hamilton lee h. hamilton


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Right Tool, Right Place

    05/05/2016
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    Gardening is a wonderful activity for your health and well-being; but like any activity, there ar...


  • What will I See on the Sun Today?

    05/05/2016
    03:00PM — 05:00PM

    It's all about LIGHT. Safely observe the sun through special solar glasses, telescopes in three d...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    05/05/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Lessons from the Winemaker

    05/05/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    The Lessons from the Winemaker series will begin in May and continue until December. One Thursday...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    05/09/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    05/10/2016
    04:30PM — 05:30PM

    Practice reading to a certified therapy dog. This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows stud...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Pilates Class: Get in Shape for Summer!

    05/11/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Sign up for FREE Pilates Class, back by popular demand! It's a 6 week session- attend them all or...


  • Pajama Storytime

    05/11/2016
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Wednesdays at 6:30 PM - Join us for an evening of stories, songs, crafts, and fun to end your day...


  • Pro-Act's Family Education Program

    05/11/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    When someone is addicted to drugs & alcohol, the diease affects the entire family. Each month PR...


  • The Garden After Dark

    05/11/2016
    07:30PM — 09:30PM

    From Perseus and Hercules to Pegasus and Leo, the spring sky abounds with mesmerizing constellati...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Right Tool, Right Place

    05/05/2016
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    Gardening is a wonderful activity for your health and well-being; but like any activity, there ar...


  • What will I See on the Sun Today?

    05/05/2016
    03:00PM — 05:00PM

    It's all about LIGHT. Safely observe the sun through special solar glasses, telescopes in three d...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    05/05/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Lessons from the Winemaker

    05/05/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    The Lessons from the Winemaker series will begin in May and continue until December. One Thursday...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • National Public Gardens Day

    05/06/2016
    10:00AM — 04:00PM

    Celebrate America's public gardens with a complimentary visit to Mt. Cuba Center! Relax in our ga...


  • National Public Gardens Day

    05/06/2016
    10:00AM — 04:00PM

    Celebrate America's public gardens with a complimentary visit to Mt. Cuba Center! Relax in our ga...


  • Join the fun at a Quarter Auction by Friends for Rescue & Pet Care in Newark on Friday May 6, 201...


  • Charlie Zahm is back presenting an evening of Civil War era music and history---this time it's Th...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Wildflower Walk

    05/07/2016
    09:00AM — 11:00AM

    With Janet Ebert, Botanist Saturday, May 7th from 9:00AM-11:00AM Location: Bucktoe Creek Preser...


  • Develop a personal photographic style and bring your technical and artistic skills to a new level...


  • Church Yard Sale

    05/07/2016
    09:00AM — 02:00PM

    As part of the East Goshen Township Community Day program, there will be a yard sale at UCCEG, 1...


  • Aston E-Waste & Data Destruction Event

    05/07/2016
    09:00AM — 01:00PM

    ELECTRONIC ITEMS ACCEPTED— Almost anything with a plug! Hard drive & cell phone destruction $10...


  • Famous Chicken BBBQ

    05/07/2016
    01:30PM — 04:30PM

    CHICKEN BBQ, Saturday, May 7, 1:30-4:30 p.m., LANDENBERG CHURCH at 205 Landenberg Road, Landenbe...


  • Banding Together for Dravet

    05/07/2016
    07:00PM — 09:15PM

    Join us at the first ever Banding Together for Dravet on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Proceeds benef...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • 2016 Kacie's Cause MOTHER'S DAY WALK

    05/08/2016
    09:00AM — 12:00PM

    We hope you will join us for the Third Annual Mother's Day Walk. This is a FAMILY EVENT (rain or ...


  • 2016 Kacie's Cause MOTHER'S DAY WALK

    05/08/2016
    09:00AM — 12:00PM

    We hope you will join us for the Third Annual Mother's Day Walk. This is a FAMILY EVENT (rain or ...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    05/09/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    05/10/2016
    04:30PM — 05:30PM

    Practice reading to a certified therapy dog. This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows stud...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Pilates Class: Get in Shape for Summer!

    05/11/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Sign up for FREE Pilates Class, back by popular demand! It's a 6 week session- attend them all or...


  • Pajama Storytime

    05/11/2016
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Wednesdays at 6:30 PM - Join us for an evening of stories, songs, crafts, and fun to end your day...


  • Pro-Act's Family Education Program

    05/11/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    When someone is addicted to drugs & alcohol, the diease affects the entire family. Each month PR...


  • The Garden After Dark

    05/11/2016
    07:30PM — 09:30PM

    From Perseus and Hercules to Pegasus and Leo, the spring sky abounds with mesmerizing constellati...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Growing Native Orchids

    05/12/2016
    10:00AM — 01:00PM

    Whether you are a rank beginner or a master gardener, hardy native orchids can grow and thrive in...


  • Meditation

    05/12/2016
    05:30PM — 06:30PM

    Increased concentration, decreased anxiety, and a general feeling of well-being can be achieved t...


  • Meditation

    05/12/2016
    05:30PM — 06:30PM

    Increased concentration, decreased anxiety, and a general feeling of well-being can be achieved t...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    05/12/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Scattered throughout the nearby Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area are the remains of on...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Spring Art-In

    05/13/2016
    10:00AM — 04:00PM

    Join us for a day of art and let your creativity bloom while you draw, paint, or photograph Mt. C...


  • Spring Art-In

    05/13/2016
    10:00AM — 04:00PM

    Join us for a day of art and let your creativity bloom while you draw, paint, or photograph Mt. C...


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/13/2016
    10:00AM — 07:00PM

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • Color In Your Bedroom

    05/13/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    Come and discover how to balance your physical health and intimate relationships with the color a...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • WHITE CANE DAY

    05/14/2016
    09:00AM — 02:00PM

    LIONS ON THE LOOSE IN OXFORD THE OXFORD LIONS CLUB MEMBERS WILL BE ON 3RD STREET, REDNERS MA...


  • Elemental Ayurvedic Readings

    05/14/2016
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    The 2 hour consultation with Sarah Tomlinson directs your awareness to your personal strengths an...


  • Sustainable Landscape Techniques

    05/14/2016
    10:00AM — 02:00PM

    Make your landscape more ecologically sound by implementing a variety of sustainable gardening an...


  • Stateline Loop Run for Conservation

    05/14/2016
    10:00AM — 02:00PM

    Join The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC) on Saturday, May 14th for the annual ...


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/14/2016
    10:00AM — 07:00PM

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • The Copeland Legacy: Conserving Native Plants

    05/14/2016
    10:30AM — 12:30PM

    Join us for Community Read, a multi-institutional program designed to inspire reading, conversati...


  • Color For Stress Reduction

    05/14/2016
    03:00PM — 06:00PM

    In this unique three-hour workshop you will discover how the activity of Coloring Yantras brings ...


  • Celebrate the power of four paws with CPL! This canine chic celebration is filled with opportunit...


  • Concordia Voices Presents: New Heaven

    05/14/2016
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    Concordia Choral Arts’ 2015-2016 Performance Year, titled THE NEW WORLD continues with our spring...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    05/15/2016
    01:00PM — 02:00PM

    Practice reading to a certified therapy dog. This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows stud...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/15/2016
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Don't miss this opportunity to visit and photograph four magnificent mid-Atlantic gardens at the ...


  • Photographing Gardens of the Brandywine Valley

    05/16/2016
    06:00AM — 04:30PM

    Don't miss this opportunity to visit and photograph four magnificent mid-Atlantic gardens at the ...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    05/16/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • Pilates Class: Get in Shape for Summer!

    05/16/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Sign up for FREE Pilates Class, back by popular demand! It's a 6 week session- attend them all or...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Carnival at St. Peter Parish in West Brandywine

    05/18/2016
    03:00PM — 10:00PM

    St. Peter Parish in West Brandywine, PA (Chester County) Wed. May 18-Sat. May 21. Event runs 5-1...


  • Pajama Storytime

    05/18/2016
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Wednesdays at 6:30 PM - Join us for an evening of stories, songs, crafts, and fun to end your day...


  • Pro-Act's Family Education Program

    05/18/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    When someone is addicted to drugs & alcohol, the diease affects the entire family. Each month PR...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • The Allure of Native Azaleas

    05/19/2016
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    Are you fascinated by native azaleas but aren't sure how to grow them? Steven Kristoph examines s...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    05/19/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Treehouse Workshop

    05/21/2016
    08:00AM

    Learn how to build a treehouse in the safest and most tree friendly way. Instructors include carp...


  • Grains of the World Dinner

    05/21/2016
    06:00PM — 08:00PM

    Newlin Grist Mill director Tony Shahan will host a special dining event featuring grains from acr...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/22/2016
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Quarter Auction

    05/22/2016
    01:00PM — 05:00PM

    Quarter Auction. There will also be Special Raffle Baskets and a 50/50. Visit www.curecancertoday...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    05/23/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    05/24/2016
    04:30PM — 05:30PM

    Practice reading to a certified therapy dog. This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows stud...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Leaf Imprinted Ceramic Vessel

    05/25/2016
    12:00PM — 04:00PM

    Create a nature-inspired vessel (vase or bowl) using foliage from our native trees as the design ...


  • Yoga

    05/25/2016
    05:00PM — 06:00PM

    Increase your range of motion, core body strength, and flexibility through the practice of yoga i...


  • Yoga

    05/25/2016
    05:00PM — 06:00PM

    Increase your range of motion, core body strength, and flexibility through the practice of yoga i...


  • Pajama Storytime

    05/25/2016
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Wednesdays at 6:30 PM - Join us for an evening of stories, songs, crafts, and fun to end your day...


  • Pro-Act's Family Education Program

    05/25/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    When someone is addicted to drugs & alcohol, the diease affects the entire family. Each month PR...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Native Shrubs for Home Gardens

    05/26/2016
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Birds, insects, and a host of other fauna rely on the natural resources supplied by our native sh...


  • False Indigo - True Beauty

    05/26/2016
    01:00PM — 03:00PM

    False indigo (Baptisia spp.) is a great plant for the sunny border and has a broad range of flowe...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    05/26/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


Chester County High School Sports