NSA sealThe news of the past week has been filled with the revelation by an ex-CIA employee of the project called PRISM, in which the government has unfettered access to Americans’ phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, etc, in order to catch threats to national security.

As I suggested in a previous post, Americans have short memories.  Even this close to the Boston Marathon bombing, after which we were treated to the sight of the Tsarnevs killed or captured by police and federal authorities, to the standing ovations of Boston citizens… those same citizens now cry “Big Brother!” and cite privacy issues in our government’s monitoring our communications.

The two things that strike me as the most significant here are: The idea that the government is somehow actually monitoring all of these calls, emails and messages; and the fact that PRISM didn’t just start yesterday.  In terms of the former, people seem to think there’s someone actually sitting in a government desk and reading and/or listening to all of this stuff.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Instead, computers search for key words, phrases and combinations of traffic that suggest plots against Americans, and pass any suspicious data to a few reviewers to process.  In order to directly, physically monitor all of those calls, emails and messages, the government would have to hire so many people that it could single-handedly wipe out unemployment.  Globally.

And to address the latter, PRISM was launched in 2007.  PRISM has been credited by authorities as having provided information that has prevented incidents, for instance, the plot to blow up backpacks in the New York subway system in 2009… just as it was designed to do.  And I’d be willing to bet that if the subway bombing had happened, New Yorkers would have no trouble okaying any efforts the government and law enforcement agencies would have to use to catch the people responsible and bring them to justice.

Despite these facts, much of the American public is critical of PRISM and the idea that it is “spying” on American citizens.  Memories are indeed short.

So, for Americans that are debating the question of “privacy vs security” right now, I’d like to say:

  • Don’t overreact.  PRISM is designed to catch terrorists, not tax cheaters or speeders.  Relax.
  • If PRISM saves a single human life (and, oh yeah, it has), it is worth every cent.
  • This does not make the government over-reaching; it makes them proactive and protective.
  • Remember Boston.
  • Remember 9/11.
  • Remember Columbine.
  • Remember Newtown.
  • Remember Virginia Tech.
  • Remember Aurora.