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Tri-State residents sound off on program that tracks telephone and Internet records

June 11, 2013|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com

Janice Stephens of Smithsburg said that although she understands the federal government needs to combat terrorism, there is a “fine line” between that and invading people’s privacy.

“I kind of feel that part of it is necessary, and part of it isn’t necessary,” Stephens said. “I think possibly they’ve crossed the line with invading people’s privacy, but I understand that in some instances, it’s necessary.”

A National Security Agency program that tracks the telephone and Internet records of Americans has been under nationwide scrutiny since Edward Snowden, an employee of government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked details last week of the program to British and American newspapers.

The whereabouts of Snowden, 29, were not known Tuesday. He was last in Hong Kong, and said he hoped to avoid being extradited to the United States for prosecution.

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Stephens, 66, said she thinks the public has the right to know what the NSA is doing, but Snowden should not be allowed back in the United States because it was not his place to disclose the information.

“He signed a contract for his job, and he violated that contract,” she said.

The constitutionality of the program, which has existed since the presidency of George W. Bush and continued under President Obama, has been questioned.

Mark Graber, a professor and associate dean of the University of Maryland School of Law, said the program’s legality centers around the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“The basic idea is the Fourth Amendment requires some sort of suspicion,” Graber said. “Traditionally, suspicionless searches are frowned upon. We can’t just go onto the street and search people.”

However, Graber said the Obama administration could argue that the war against terrorism is reason for suspicion, and that it justifies the actions.

He said that although the word “privacy” does not appear in the Constitution, that does not mean it cannot be assumed as a right based on the language in the document.

“The word ‘dissent’ doesn’t appear, but people assume the First Amendment covers dissent,” he said. “The word ‘privacy’ doesn’t appear, but people assume privacy to be covered by various amendments.”

A national survey by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post conducted from June 6 to 9 among 1,004 people revealed that 56 percent of Americans say the program is an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, with 41 percent saying it is unacceptable, according to www.pewresearch.org.

Among 10 area residents who spoke with The Herald-Mail Tuesday, including Stephens, seven said they were fine with the government tracking their phone and Internet records to combat terrorism.

“I’m OK with it because I’m not a terrorist,” said Ron Hocker, 82, of Chambersburg, Pa. “They aren’t going to get any information out of me.”

Bob Ardinger of Hagerstown said the government is not stopping terrorism with the program.

“I think they’re just nosy,” said Ardinger, 83. “The government is crooked and dishonest.”

Diane Golden and Lovetta Lyons, both of Hagerstown, said they were fine with it because they have “nothing to hide.”

Lyons, 79, said she does not say anything over the phone that she would not want anybody to hear, and that Snowden should “have the book thrown at him” in court.

“He had no business giving our secrets away,” she said. “I think he’s just trying to make a name for himself.”

Faye Katchur of Hagerstown said she understands both sides, but there is a “certain need” for the program.

“The government is already into all our business anyway, and if you’re on Facebook or the Internet, anything can happen to you,” she said.

Katchur, 76, said Snowden should be punished, but not too severely.

“He should not get life in prison,” she said.

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