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Burriss on Media: NSA


MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BURRISS)  --  It’s been said that it is better to debate an issue and not have it settled, than to settle an issue with no debate. And that’s precisely where we are with the latest revelations about the National Security Agency and our personal phone and Internet records.

Unfortunately, there are so many issues involved, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Let’s start with a given we can all agree on: there are different rules for the government and private industry. Some of these rules are based in law, and some are based on societal practice. But the rules are, in fact, different.

Another given is that both the government and private industry collect all sorts of details about our lives, and they then combine individual pieces of data to generate more information about us. Both the government and private industry track our phone and internet usage.

Third, no one seems to be willing to tell us how the information about us is collected, how it is used, what conclusions are drawn therefrom, how it is combined with other information, or answer any of the myriad of questions that have arisen in the last couple of weeks. The government claims national security; private industry claims trade secrets.

And it is these two competing claims that take us back to where we started: the rules are different. So ultimately there are two questions we need to ask: “How do we balance the very real needs of national security, versus the very real concerns about privacy?” Second, is it ok for private industry to do the very same things we criticize the government for doing?

Now, to be sure, there are significant differences between private industry and the government. But what those differences are, are they more imagined than real, and perhaps most importantly, should we treat them differently are all questions we need to ask.

So what we need is a serious debate among all of the parties involved: the government, the phone services, and the people. But somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

I’m Larry Burriss.