Have the facts before you take a stance

Researching issues is like brushing your teeth: Nobody wants to do it, but it’s important. Before you take a stance on any issue, you should do extensive research. The issue of the National Security Agency’s intelligence gathering is one of the best current examples of this. After extensive research, I have found that people who claim the NSA is performing unconstitutional acts and obtaining information illegally are under informed. Just a few months ago, the country boiled over in heightened discontent with the NSA’s actions as Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, told the world the NSA was spying on U.S. citizens by gathering telephone records. Joel Brenner, a former NSA inspector general, challenged this statement in a PBS NewsHour interview with Judy Woodruff.

“The idea that the NSA is compiling dossiers on people the way J. Edgar Hoover did, or the way the East German police did, that’s just not true,” Brenner argues.

The lack of true information people have obtained and the small number of researched facts the media gives the public are the real problems with the NSA intelligence issue. It is no longer enough to simply watch the news to obtain enough information to take a stance. The media often leaves out incredibly important information about issues that could turn many arguments upside-down. In my personal research, I found a handful of facts that drastically impacted my stance on the intelligence gathering issue.

When conducting research, it’s important to use sources that are as non-biased as possible. Typically when the source is unbiased, the information is unbiased as well. To find more information on the subject, I turned to PBS’s NewsHour, which is one of the most unbiased media sources out there. In my research, I found that in 1979 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a statement that said the American people shouldn’t expect privacy of telephone records and, therefore, the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of warrants does not apply. Because the Supreme Court was created to be the voice of the Constitution, which said phone records were not private property, the NSA is acting constitutionally. This 1979 statement isn’t common knowledge, but it is important knowledge to have when taking a stance on the constitutionality of the NSA’s actions. If I had not done further research, I would have had to rely on my best guess as to how constitutional the NSA’s actions are.

Another resource I used when conducting my research was interviews available for public viewing. Interviews are helpful for obtaining information because you are not receiving the information from a single source, but rather hearing a back-and-forth between two sources at once. I found an interview of Bryan Cunningham, a former lawyer for the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency. He pointed out that the telephone records the NSA has obtained are “turned over voluntarily by the telephone companies to the government.” This interview shows the NSA would not have to go to court to legally obtain and look through the records, which means the NSA is acting legally. This helped me to make a more informed decision about the legality of the NSA’s actions.

This issue is one of many that the public is vastly under informed about simply because the facts are not common knowledge. Yet, this information holds enough importance to reshape an opinion or discredit an argument. There are so many facts about the NSA, or even about intelligence agencies in general, that have been swept under the rug, played down or skewed. Such actions have caused a misinterpretation of fact, which has led to misinformed opinions. Anyone attempting to take an informed stance on an issue must perform extensive research first.

Email Katie Kellenberger at kakellenberger@email.wm.edu.


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