The idea that the United States government might be spying on some of our personal communication is a little creepy. If I phone a friend in Baghdad, Kabul or Moscow, or even London or Paris, there’s apparently a chance that a record of my call could wind up in a National Security Agency electronic file. Or if I email my cousin in South Dakota to exchange recipes for homemade cherry bombs or bottle rockets to celebrate July 4th, there could be a record of our discussion at NSA headquarters.
Recent revelations about government snooping have generated another firestorm of anger and suspicion. Folks from both ends of the political spectrum are outraged that the U.S. government could be keeping an eye — or an ear — on communication in and out of the country. But, at the same time, a sizable majority of citizens are okay with the National Security Agency keeping data on overseas telephone calls or emails with certain words or phrases in them. Maybe they’re not delighted at the prospect, but they’re feeling a little less secure in a post-Sept. 11th world and realize that individual privacy must be balanced to some degree with the needs of our national security.
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Helfert, a longtime Austin political consultant, teaches graduate classes in political and governmental communication at Johns Hopkins University and American University in Washington, D.C., and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.