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Spy On Me, I'd Rather Be Safe

The BriefGet Up To Speed

The NSA collects data on billions of phone calls and internet communications per day. Are these surveillance programs legal? Do they keep us safe? If not for the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, most Americans would be unaware of the vast amounts of information their government is secretly collecting, all in the name of national security. But whether you believe leakers are heroes or traitors, an important public conversation has finally begun, and we should ask ourselves: What tradeoffs are we willing to make between security and privacy?

As Benjamin Franklin might have asked, "Are we giving up essential liberty to purchase temporary safety, and thus deserving of neither?"


All nations surveil communications. Surveillance reduces risk. This makes it worthwhile if the political risks can be managed and minimized.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
James Lewis

The evolution of the intelligence community since 9/11 has helped protect Americans from al-Qaeda.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Michael Chertoff

The NSA examines only the addressee and sender on e-mails, and telephone numbers called and called from. The Supreme Court has long held that such information is not privacy-protected by the Fourth Amendment.

Friday, August 16, 2013
Gerald Walpin

The critics would be more credible if they could identify a pattern of government abuses. But after 12 years of continuous practice, they can’t cite even a single case.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Roger Pilon and Richard Epstein

With increased computer use, technology is seen as empowering individuals rather than Big Brother. And with an increased threat of terrorist attack, government surveillance is seen as protecting individuals.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Michael Barone

The NSA's actions are making us all less safe. They're not just spying on the bad guys, they're deliberately weakening Internet security for everyone—including the good guys.

Monday, September 23, 2013
David Talbot interviews Bruce Schneier

The ACLU has been at the forefront of the struggle to rein in the surveillance superstructure, which strikes at the core of our rights to privacy, free speech, and association. Here's some of what they are doing to roll back the surveillance state.

Wednesday, December 31, 1969

Intelligence officials, media outlets, and members of Congress from both parties all repeated versions of the claim that NSA surveillance has stopped more than 50 terrorist attacks, but there’s no evidence that this figure is accurate.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer

Counterterrorism is only a fraction of the NSA’s far broader authority to seek ‘foreign intelligence information,’ a menacing sounding term that actually encapsulates all sorts of innocuous, everyday conversation.

Monday, November 11, 2013
Trevor Timm

It’s slow and subtle, but surveillance societies inexorably train us for helplessness, anxiety and compliance.

Friday, June 14, 2013
Julian Sanchez

CFR Backgrounder on domestic surveillance under the Bush and Obama presidencies.

Thursday, June 13, 2013
Jonathan Masters

This report clarifies the differences between the two intelligence collection programs publicly disclosed in June and identifies potential issues.<a name="FISAAmendmentsAct" id="FISAAmendmentsAct"></a>

Wednesday, September 4, 2013
John Rollins and Edward Liu

This report describes the changes that were made by the FISA Amendments Act within the context of the government’s authority to conduct surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes.

Monday, April 8, 2013
Edward Liu

There have been a lot of news stories about NSA surveillance programs following the leaks of secret documents by Edward Snowden. But it seems the more we read, the less clear things are. ProPublica put together a detailed snapshot of what's known and what's been reported where.

Monday, August 5, 2013
Jonathan Stray
In the News

<em>The Guardian</em>, the newspaper that published intelligence files leaked by Edward Snowden, breaks down the scope of NSA surveillance.

Wednesday, December 31, 1969
Ewen Macaskill and Gabriel Dance

The National Security Agency—which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens—has built a surveillance network that covers more Americans' Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Siobhan Gorman and Jennifer Valentino-Devries

A federal judge could grant a preliminary injunction blocking some National Security Agency surveillance programs.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Steven Nelson

The director of the National Security Agency conceded on Wednesday that it may need to scale back some of its surveillance operations on foreign leaders, in the wake of an international outcry.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Spencer Ackerman

The Supreme Court on Monday turned away an unusual challenge to a National Security Agency program that collects the telephone records of millions of Americans, as congressional critics of the data collection stepped up efforts to force more disclosure about the scope of the surveillance.

Monday, November 18, 2013
Adam Liptak and Jeremy Peters