Prove the need to spy

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall is leading a bipartisan charge to place restrictions on the government’s wholesale gathering of Americans’ cell phone and Internet communications records. We applaud him for it.

The reasons for the government collection of the phone and Internet records of millions of Americans cannot be dismissed out of hand. We are engaged in a continuing battle — a war on terror, even if some people no longer want to use that term. And the terrorists who seek to harm us will use every trick they can muster to avoid detection.

But it doesn’t follow that, to prevent attacks, we must allow intelligence agencies to gather information on almost every single American’s communication activities.

Leaders of agencies such as the NSA have said that gathering all of that data has helped foil several terrorist plots. But, because they say they can’t release any more information for security reasons, most of us are powerless to dispute them.

However, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Udall has seen more detailed information on the program, and he has publicly questioned whether the wholesale gathering of information has actually prevented any attacks.

Udall’s legislation would amend the Patriot Act to require intelligence agencies to show a clear connection between Americans and terrorists prior to gathering information on their electronic or cell-phone communications. That could still be done in secret before a special security court.

That’s hardly an undue restriction on intelligence gathering, especially since the Fourth Amendment requires some likelihood of a connection to criminal activity to allow a government search of a citizen’s person or belongings.

Udall and the six senators cosponsoring the bill with him are on the right track in trying to rein in the intelligence agencies. And that’s no secret.


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