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


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/09/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/11/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    02/11/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • Craft and Create

    02/11/2016
    06:30PM — 08:30PM

    2nd Thursday of the month at 6:30, gather up your craft projects and get away from the distractio...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/12/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Wee Build Block Party

    02/12/2016
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

    Come to the Oxford Library for a Block Party! Children of all ages are welcome to bring their ima...


  • Parents Night Out: Natural Valentines

    02/12/2016
    06:30PM — 08:30PM

    Make a special valentine for our sweet marsh animals. Friday, February 12, 6:30 - 8:30pm Memb...


  • Arts Leadership Class for Teens

    02/13/2016
    12:00AM

    The Teen Arts Council of PA is excited to invite Chester County Teens to a free program combing t...


  • ASTON, PA DATA DESTRUCTION EVENT

    02/13/2016
    09:00AM — 01:00PM

    This event will be held at our secure location at Elwyn Industries Warehouse, 1 Judy Way, Aston, ...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/13/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Feed the Birds

    02/13/2016
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    We all love the colorful winter birds! Come take a family hike and visit the Ashland feeders! P...


  • Ready to Read

    02/13/2016
    11:00AM — 12:00PM

    Ready to Read: Fizz, Boom, Read! STEAM Saturdays! Saturday, January 16 – Saturday, April 30 from...


  • Souper Saturdays

    02/13/2016
    11:00AM — 12:00PM

    Come for stories, stay for soup! Enjoy stories, crafts, and a tasty lunch! Program is free and o...


  • Archery in Amish Country

    02/13/2016
    12:30PM — 07:00PM

    Spend an afternoon shooting bows and arrows at Lancaster Archery Supply the world’s largest arc...


  • Mammals of Southeastern Pennsylvania

    02/13/2016
    01:00PM — 03:00PM

    Learn about the different mammals that live in Southeastern Pennsylvania by examining skulls, pel...


  • Teen Drawing Class with Louise Vinueza at Chester Springs Studio, Chester Springs Ages: 13 t...


  • Teen Drawing Class at Chester Springs Studio

    02/13/2016
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    Ideal for teens who want to further their drawing skills. In this 8-week Teen Drawing Class stud...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/08/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Creative Clay Ages: 6 to 8 Instructor: Jessica Greet Length: 8 Weeks Start Date: Mondays, Jan...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    02/08/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/09/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/10/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Great pottery class for 9 to 12 year olds. Register now to reserve you place in the class! Stu...


  • Watercolor: An Exploration Level: Some experience required, Limit 10 students Instructor: Mick ...


  • Knit One, Crochet Too

    02/10/2016
    06:30PM — 08:00PM

    Stitch with us on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday each month. Free program for teens and adults. All sk...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/11/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    02/11/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • Craft and Create

    02/11/2016
    06:30PM — 08:30PM

    2nd Thursday of the month at 6:30, gather up your craft projects and get away from the distractio...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/12/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Wee Build Block Party

    02/12/2016
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

    Come to the Oxford Library for a Block Party! Children of all ages are welcome to bring their ima...


  • Parents Night Out: Natural Valentines

    02/12/2016
    06:30PM — 08:30PM

    Make a special valentine for our sweet marsh animals. Friday, February 12, 6:30 - 8:30pm Memb...


  • Arts Leadership Class for Teens

    02/13/2016
    12:00AM

    The Teen Arts Council of PA is excited to invite Chester County Teens to a free program combing t...


  • ASTON, PA DATA DESTRUCTION EVENT

    02/13/2016
    09:00AM — 01:00PM

    This event will be held at our secure location at Elwyn Industries Warehouse, 1 Judy Way, Aston, ...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/13/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Feed the Birds

    02/13/2016
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    We all love the colorful winter birds! Come take a family hike and visit the Ashland feeders! P...


  • Ready to Read

    02/13/2016
    11:00AM — 12:00PM

    Ready to Read: Fizz, Boom, Read! STEAM Saturdays! Saturday, January 16 – Saturday, April 30 from...


  • Souper Saturdays

    02/13/2016
    11:00AM — 12:00PM

    Come for stories, stay for soup! Enjoy stories, crafts, and a tasty lunch! Program is free and o...


  • Archery in Amish Country

    02/13/2016
    12:30PM — 07:00PM

    Spend an afternoon shooting bows and arrows at Lancaster Archery Supply the world’s largest arc...


  • Mammals of Southeastern Pennsylvania

    02/13/2016
    01:00PM — 03:00PM

    Learn about the different mammals that live in Southeastern Pennsylvania by examining skulls, pel...


  • Teen Drawing Class with Louise Vinueza at Chester Springs Studio, Chester Springs Ages: 13 t...


  • Teen Drawing Class at Chester Springs Studio

    02/13/2016
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    Ideal for teens who want to further their drawing skills. In this 8-week Teen Drawing Class stud...


  • Arts Leadership Class for Teens

    02/14/2016
    12:00AM

    The Teen Arts Council of PA is excited to invite Chester County Teens to a free program combing t...


  • Seasonal Farm Fun & Food: Farm Valentines

    02/14/2016
    01:00PM — 03:00PM

    The Coverdale Farm animals are awaiting Valentine's Day to see who will show them some love! Wi...


  • Wizards and Lizards Overnight

    02/14/2016
    03:00PM

    Pack your wands and your sleeping bags! Join us for this classic wintry Wizardry event! Spooky ...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/15/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Creative Clay Ages: 6 to 8 Instructor: Jessica Greet Length: 8 Weeks Start Date: Mondays, Jan...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    02/15/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/16/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    02/16/2016
    04:30PM — 05:30PM

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


  • Kids Book Club

    02/16/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Join us at the Chester Springs Library on Tuesday, January 19 from 6 – 7 PM for Kids Book Club. ...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/17/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Native Evergreens

    02/17/2016
    10:00AM — 12:30PM

    Evergreens form the backbone of winter landscapes as well as provide shelter and food sources for...


  • Native Evergreens

    02/17/2016
    10:00AM — 12:30PM

    Evergreens form the backbone of winter landscapes as well as provide shelter and food sources for...


  • Great pottery class for 9 to 12 year olds. Register now to reserve you place in the class! Stu...


  • Watercolor: An Exploration Level: Some experience required, Limit 10 students Instructor: Mick ...


  • SCCCC Annual Meeting Breakfast

    02/18/2016
    07:30AM — 10:00AM

    The Annual Meeting is the official introduction of the Chamber's Board of Directors. The Chairman...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/18/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    02/18/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • Teen Book Club

    02/18/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Join us at the Chester Springs Library on Thursday, January 21 from 6 – 7 PM for Teen Book Club! ...


  • Avon Grove Library Book Club

    02/18/2016
    06:30PM — 08:00PM

    Every 3rd Thursday at 6:30 pm, Join other adults for lively discussions and meet new people. Read...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/19/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Green by Nature Preschool: Wonders of Winter

    02/19/2016
    09:30AM — 11:00AM

    Wake up hibernating senses as we use sleepy eyes, ears, and noses in the crisp winter air. Smel...


  • An evening of Jazz performances with over 200 students from 10 area schools. Food and drink will...


  • Freud's Last Session

    02/19/2016
    08:00PM

    Freud’s Last Session centers on a hypothetical meeting between legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmun...


  • Arts Leadership Class for Teens

    02/20/2016
    12:00AM

    The Teen Arts Council of PA is excited to invite Chester County Teens to a free program combing t...


  • ASTON, PA DATA DESTRUCTION EVENT

    02/20/2016
    09:00AM — 01:00PM

    This event will be held at our secure location at Elwyn Industries Warehouse, 1 Judy Way, Aston, ...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/20/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Ready to Read

    02/20/2016
    11:00AM — 12:00PM

    Ready to Read: Fizz, Boom, Read! STEAM Saturdays! Saturday, January 16 – Saturday, April 30 from...


  • Bird Box Building For Families

    02/20/2016
    12:30PM — 04:00PM

    Spring is coming and bluebirds and wrens will soon be house hunting! Give these gorgeous birds a ...


  • Marvels of Migration

    02/20/2016
    01:00PM — 03:00PM

    Whether traveling alone or in flocks, by day or by night, searching for prey or avoiding becoming...


  • Landscape for Life

    02/20/2016
    01:00PM — 03:00PM

    Create healthy, beautiful landscapes using a toolkit of basic skills that work in harmony with na...


  • Wildlife in Winter

    02/20/2016
    01:00PM — 02:30PM

    Return to Bucktoe for part II of the nature walk series focused on camouflage and other methods o...


  • Marvels of Migration

    02/20/2016
    01:00PM — 03:00PM

    Whether traveling alone or in flocks, by day or by night, searching for prey or avoiding becoming...


  • Landscape for Life

    02/20/2016
    01:00PM — 03:00PM

    Create healthy, beautiful landscapes using a toolkit of basic skills that work in harmony with na...


  • Teen Drawing Class with Louise Vinueza at Chester Springs Studio, Chester Springs Ages: 13 t...


  • Teen Drawing Class at Chester Springs Studio

    02/20/2016
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    Ideal for teens who want to further their drawing skills. In this 8-week Teen Drawing Class stud...


  • Newark Symphony Chamber Concert

    02/20/2016
    07:30PM — 09:00PM

    NEWARK SYMPHONY 2015-16 CHAMBER CONCERT Simeone Tartaglione, Music Director Ryan Tibbetts, Ass...


  • Freud's Last Session

    02/20/2016
    08:00PM

    Freud’s Last Session centers on a hypothetical meeting between legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmun...


  • Arts Leadership Class for Teens

    02/21/2016
    12:00AM

    The Teen Arts Council of PA is excited to invite Chester County Teens to a free program combing t...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    02/21/2016
    01:00PM — 02:00PM

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


  • Owl and Raptor Fest

    02/21/2016
    02:00PM — 04:30PM

    Join us for an afternoon of having fun learning about owls and other raptors. This program is f...


  • Freud's Last Session

    02/21/2016
    08:00PM

    Freud’s Last Session centers on a hypothetical meeting between legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmun...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/22/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Creative Clay Ages: 6 to 8 Instructor: Jessica Greet Length: 8 Weeks Start Date: Mondays, Jan...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    02/22/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/23/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Table Games

    02/23/2016
    06:00PM — 08:00PM

    Adults we are hosting a table games event for you! Use the Library’s games or bring your own! Sc...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/24/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Great pottery class for 9 to 12 year olds. Register now to reserve you place in the class! Stu...


  • Cultivars, Roadside Restorations, and More

    02/24/2016
    06:00PM — 07:30PM

    Two questions are common among native plant enthusiasts: “Do cultivars of native plants provide t...


  • Cultivars, Roadside Restorations, and More

    02/24/2016
    06:00PM — 07:30PM

    Two questions are common among native plant enthusiasts: “Do cultivars of native plants provide t...


  • Watercolor: An Exploration Level: Some experience required, Limit 10 students Instructor: Mick ...


  • Knit One, Crochet Too

    02/24/2016
    06:30PM — 08:00PM

    Stitch with us on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday each month. Free program for teens and adults. All sk...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/25/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Fundamentals of Pruning

    02/25/2016
    10:00AM — 02:30PM

    Proper pruning of shrubs and trees improves their structure and health while enhancing their appe...


  • Fundamentals of Pruning

    02/25/2016
    10:00AM — 02:30PM

    Proper pruning of shrubs and trees improves their structure and health while enhancing their appe...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    02/25/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • Freud's Last Session

    02/25/2016
    08:00PM

    Freud’s Last Session centers on a hypothetical meeting between legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmun...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/26/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Green by Nature: DEEC's Winter Wonderland

    02/26/2016
    09:30AM — 11:00AM

    What animals use the pond in winter? Discover animal tracks in the snow and touch real animal fur...


  • Wee Build Block Party

    02/26/2016
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

    Come to the Oxford Library for a Block Party! Children of all ages are welcome to bring their ima...


  • Classical Guitar and Wine

    02/26/2016
    07:00PM — 10:00PM

    Brad Rau will be performing Classical Guitar Saturday February 26th 2016 from 7-10 pm at the Kreu...


  • "Dixie Swim Club"

    02/26/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    A hilarious, all female cast that consists of five southern women, whose friendships began many y...


  • Freud's Last Session

    02/26/2016
    08:00PM

    Freud’s Last Session centers on a hypothetical meeting between legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmun...


  • Arts Leadership Class for Teens

    02/27/2016
    12:00AM

    The Teen Arts Council of PA is excited to invite Chester County Teens to a free program combing t...


  • Children’s I-Spy Birding

    02/27/2016
    09:00AM — 10:30AM

    The last Saturday of the month from 9am-10:30am. Join local birding expert and environmental edu...


  • Children's I-Spy Birding

    02/27/2016
    09:00AM — 10:30AM

    Join us as we look and listen for the common (and uncommon) birds of Bucktoe. We will be taking s...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/27/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Maple Sugaring and Pancake Breakfast

    02/27/2016
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Work up an appetite while walking to our maple trees to learn how Native Americans developed th...


  • Get ready for a unique event: a live session, open to the public, combining ballet dancers and ar...


  • Ready to Read

    02/27/2016
    11:00AM — 12:00PM

    Ready to Read: Fizz, Boom, Read! STEAM Saturdays! Saturday, January 16 – Saturday, April 30 from...


  • Teen Drawing Class with Louise Vinueza at Chester Springs Studio, Chester Springs Ages: 13 t...


  • Teen Drawing Class at Chester Springs Studio

    02/27/2016
    04:00PM — 06:00PM

    Ideal for teens who want to further their drawing skills. In this 8-week Teen Drawing Class stud...


  • "Dixie Swim Club"

    02/27/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    A hilarious, all female cast that consists of five southern women, whose friendships began many y...


  • Freud's Last Session

    02/27/2016
    08:00PM

    Freud’s Last Session centers on a hypothetical meeting between legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmun...


  • Arts Leadership Class for Teens

    02/28/2016
    12:00AM

    The Teen Arts Council of PA is excited to invite Chester County Teens to a free program combing t...


  • "Dixie Swim Club"

    02/28/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    A hilarious, all female cast that consists of five southern women, whose friendships began many y...


  • Freud's Last Session

    02/28/2016
    08:00PM

    Freud’s Last Session centers on a hypothetical meeting between legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmun...


  • Give the Gift of Creativity!

    02/29/2016
    09:30AM — 06:30PM

    This holiday season give the gift of creativity! Historic Yellow Springs offers classes in fine a...


  • Creative Clay Ages: 6 to 8 Instructor: Jessica Greet Length: 8 Weeks Start Date: Mondays, Jan...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    02/29/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


 

 

 

Chester County High School Sports