January 6, 2014

Regarding John McLaughlin’s Jan. 3 Washington Forum commentary, “Misplaced fear of the NSA”:

As I have watched the debate about the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) play out over the past few months, two hypothetical questions keep coming to mind. First, if the date were Aug. 10, 1974 (the day after President Richard M. Nixon resigned), would the American public be so relaxed about trusting the government to collect and retain such data? I doubt it.

Second, if on Aug. 20, 1789 (the day before the House of Representatives adopted the legislative articles that became the Bill of Rights), it had come to light that the government automatically read and retained the contents of every letter mailed to or from the United States, would the Fourth Amendment have taken a broader form specifically prohibiting this type of collection by the government? 

I am not a Fourth Amendment scholar, but my suspicion is that if this practice had existed, the debate we are having now would not be a debate; this type of activity would be expressly prohibited.     

Rich Davis, Laurel

Much of what I have read in The Post about the Edward Snowden affair has resulted in aggravation leading to poor appetite and sleep. I left the NSA after 35 years, experience that I then used for a decade as a contractor and consultant. The time was well spent. I worked hard and long with a feeling that I was contributing to a national effort.

I applaud John McLaughlin for settling my stomach and easing my sleep. His words should be echoed throughout the media so that other Americans can dine and sleep at ease — knowing that the NSA is working hard to protect them.

Chuck Kennedy Jr., Annapolis

John McLaughlin wrote, “I don’t know why anyone would have greater confidence in [personal] information being held by private companies.” The difference is that Google might send me annoying e-mails but the government could put me in jail. More likely, the government might, through intimidation, deny my freedom to associate with peers via e-mail or phone.

There is reasonable debate about whether the NSA’s collection of massive amounts of telephone records and other data has accomplished anything worthwhile, but there is little debate about the huge investment of time, money and people in the effort. Invasion of privacy is one issue, but also important is the waste of valuable resources.

Robert Burney, Washington

John McLaughlin wrote, “I don’t know why anyone would have greater confidence in this information being held by private companies.” Surely he does not really have to ask.

When private companies hold the data, the assumption is that the government would obtain that information by way of normal court procedures — affidavits and search warrants. Of course, the NSA does not want to be bothered with legal processes. The rubber-stamp Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is not due process as guaranteed under the Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution. The NSA needs to be held to constitutional standards.

Elaine Cassel, Alexandria