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Government Must Bring Transparency to Surveillance

The U.S. federal government's continued vagueness about its domestic surveillance programs is deeply disturbing and should concern all Americans and not just the partisans. This skepticism was reaffirmed with this week's preliminary ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon. In his 68-page ruling, Leon deemed the government's surveillance "indiscriminate" and an "arbitrary invasion" of the "personal data on virtually every single citizen."

The lack of clarity from Washington, which was highlighted by a recent letter to the president and members of Congress from Microsoft and other tech companies, must end. Gen. Keith Alexander, the National Security Agency director, defended the government's domestic surveillance, including the capture of metadata, before the U.S. Senate by claiming it's merely a way to "connect the dots."

His defense of domestic surveillance begs the question: Whose dots are being connected?

And that's the problem.

As it stands now, the daily life of each and every American is being recorded in an unthinkable way. Calls placed to get spiritual counsel from a priest or other clergy are logged. The same goes for those who struggle with addiction and contact their Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. Calling a local crisis pregnancy center? The government is tracking that, too. Even your son or daughter's text messages to their teenage friends are being logged.

If the Internal Revenue Service - supposedly one of the most apolitical entities of government - can deliberately target organizations with deeply held values and beliefs, then it is conceivable for others in the government to carry out similar abuses of the system.

The infringement upon the rights and religious freedom of the American people cannot be taken lightly, as the very republic was built upon a sacred bond between the government and those who created it, of whom the government exists to serve and protect. Reform is needed now more than ever, especially given that trust in government is at an all-time low.

Increased transparency can be achieved by enhancing the level of judicial approval required for domestic surveillance programs. At the same time, more members of Congress - and not just congressional leadership and committee chairmen - should be engaged in oversight, as many of the people's representatives aren't privy to the critical information needed to carry out their constitutional mandate to scrutinize the government.

Both of these measures would reassure the American people that their government isn't spying on them.

That may sound harsh, but it would be remiss not to mention that many of the early actions taken by the Founding Fathers occurred as a result of whispered debates by patriots afraid of the heavy hand of government.

Government engaging in massive, unwarranted, unreported and unaccountable domestic surveillance is not a small issue. It's a tear in the very fabric of what makes America great, and there will be no resolution until there is full transparency by the government.

Craig DeRoche is president of Justice Fellowship, the criminal justice reform organization founded by Chuck Colson.

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