Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Should Utahns be worried about NSA monitoring?

Published: Sunday, June 16 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

This Thursday, June 6, 2013 file photo shows the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md.

Patrick Semansky, AP

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Although summer doesn't arrive until June 21, we are certainly experiencing a heat wave — both in the temperature outside and also in the machinations and consternations of political wrangling in our state.

Once again, Utah is receiving global media attention — this time about the new NSA facility in Bluffdale. Should Utahns be worried the federal government storing records of their telephone and Internet activities?

Pignanelli: "Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a Peeping Tom to install your window blinds."— John Perry Barlow

Two decades ago, my wife and I grew suspicious that political enemies were tapping our phone lines. A private detective determined we were the subjects of intense monitoring, but not by political opponents. A federal agency was snooping. He then stated, "Someone in your house is calling Baghdad weekly mentioning words like bombs, explosions, mosques, etc. The cloak-and-dagger crowd is very interested in you." I then realized my wife's Iraqi cousin — who was living with us — was calling her Muslim relatives living in a home damaged by an errant missile in the first Iraq War. (Of course, my Italian temper was in fifth gear when discussing this revelation with my wife.)

I grudgingly understand why national security entities eavesdropped on these innocent conversations. But every Utahn should be uncomfortable with all monitoring — regardless of the rationale — and expect safeguards in place to ensure that any spying on personal discussions is specific in nature and subject to judicial scrutiny. UtahSen. Mike Lee's, demand to open proceedings of the FISA court (which approves wiretap requests) is an excellent move. Americans should be equally concerned that young malcontents (like the NSA leaker) have security clearance and access to our private records.

Webb: This is a truly dumb issue to get worked up over. Who has been hurt by the NSA? Where are the victims? It has been vastly overblown and once again illustrates the truth that Congress can only do two things: nothing and overreact. Almost all Americans voluntarily reveal vast amounts of information about themselves by surfing the Web, posting on Facebook and Twitter, using location services on their smartphones, using credit cards and on and on. We'd all be amazed at the data being collected about us by any number of entities.

Every day, thousands of people are violated by unscrupulous marketers using data they've collected. Let's get upset about that, not about the Defense Department scanning data to protect us from being murdered by terrorists. Personally, I'm glad the good guys are protecting America using every means possible to detect the bad guys.

President Barack Obama is hypocritical on this issue, because this is precisely what he used to complain about as a civil libertarian community organizer and U.S. senator. But at least he grew up, got real, and now understands we need to protect America. He's now right on the issue, unlike the black helicopter fear-mongers on the far left and the far right, and some members of Congress.

Let's get real, folks. If you want to worry, then worry about something that's at least remotely likely to hurt you: like being hit by lightning, falling down stairs, drowning in the bathtub. There's plenty to worry about. But the NSA isn't one of them.

The national immigration debate is fostering interesting dynamics. Utah's business community and media leaders overwhelmingly support comprehensive reform legislation, but Utah's junior Sen. Mike Lee is adamantly opposed. What are the impacts on local politics?

Pignanelli: My firm represents many companies (from high technology to retail services) who respect Lee but are dumbfounded with his opposition to the "Gang of Eight" bill because the status quo is generating chaos for American businesses. Should the bill leave the Senate with divided support between Lee and Sen. Orrin Hatch, there will be external pressure and media attention on Utah's House delegation approximating the noise level of a general election year.

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