No, Demand Oversight

Keith Pavlischek

First, we need to understand the difference between internal communications content, and the bulk collection and analysis of telecommunication data. When we do, it becomes clear why the National Security Administration's (NSA) use of this data does not necessarily violate our privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment.

The debate over the proposed USA Freedom Act has little to do with whether the government is spying on Americans by listening to their phone calls or reading their e-mails. This legislation, simply stated, would restrict the bulk collection and analysis of data about data (known as metadata—numbers dialed, length of call, billing records) in the fight against terrorism. It has long been settled that the Fourth Amendment doesn't protect a conversation that merely has taken place. The Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Maryland (1979), "While the guarantees of the Fourth Amendment are broad, they are not boundless."

The bulk collection of this kind of data is constitutional, yet informed debate on this issue is as difficult for Christians as anyone else. Too often, the debate is reduced to a simplistic choice between good (the right to privacy) and evil (government surveillance). Scholar Benjamin Wittes summarizes this polarized view in his review of No Place to Hide, journalist Glenn Greenwald's book about Edward Snowden: "NSA is unrelentingly evil, its appetite voracious, its purpose political control and the suppression of dissent. Terrorism and other national security interests are mere smokescreens and pretexts for collection that is, in fact, just a repressive instrument."

When privacy advocates don't embrace such hysterical nonsense outright, they tend to stress the potential for abuse. Of course the bulk collection of phone and Internet data could be abused. If the information gleaned from bulk collection did not have the potential for abuse, it would not be such an indispensable tool in our counterterrorist toolbox. But that simply highlights the need to vigorously monitor the program through compliance protocols and legislative and judicial oversight, not to abandon the program altogether. Oversight and use of the least intrusive methods are what Christians should advocate for in the public arena.

My views are based on my direct experience working at the NSA and in the intelligence community as a military intelligence officer. The prevailing suspicion that NSA "spies" are cavalier about the privacy rights of citizens couldn't be further from the truth. The culture of the nsa, from its leadership to entry-level analysts, tilts radically in the opposite direction, toward an almost fanatical obligation to protect Americans' privacy rights.

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Christians should support the legitimate use of counterterrorism surveillance under classic just-war reasoning, historically based on Romans 13. There is no justice in terrorism, only injustice. I said that in September 2001, and it's still true.

KEITH PAVLISCHEK, a U.S. Marine Corps colonel (ret.), is vice president of operations at Veteran Solutions Inc.

Yes, It May Be Necessary

David Lyon

Has a threshold of government surveillance been reached beyond which Christians should actively push back? Did it take former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's 2013 disclosures to wake us up to surveillance?

Almost all surveillance today is massive computer-based monitoring of phone call records, e-mails, and Internet use. The days of defining surveillance as the targeting of specific suspects (think Frog One in The French Connection) are long gone. Now surveillance organizations seek to suck up as much data on individuals as possible. An individual's online choices, Facebook views, durations of phone calls, and food fads and fancies all help to tag him or her for police, marketers, and the NSA. The government claims to use this data, merged on a massive scale with other information, to foil terrorism.

The era of Big Data raises important questions for Christians. The biblical account shows us the proper aims of surveillance. The God of Scripture practices surveillance: "Unless the Lord watches over [surveils] the city, the guards stand watch in vain" (Ps. 127:1). This God is especially vigilant for the vulnerable, as Hagar found, calling him "the God who sees me" (Gen. 16:13). As a foreigner, a female, and a fugitive, Hagar was at a triple disadvantage. So watching over (which is what the French verb, surveiller, means) should always be judged by a criterion of care, with human flourishing as its aim and ultimate purpose.

But do we necessarily flourish when we are seen? Are we meant to live totally transparent lives? It depends. Sometimes we reveal ourselves, and sometimes we hold back.

Complete self-exposure is not automatically the best choice. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that when giving alms, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matt. 6:2–4). One day, we'll know God and be known face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). But until then we need to take great care because surveillance has become an unavoidable aspect of all our lives.

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We must be alert not only to the excesses of the nsa, but also to the surveillance society that we have created—of which the NSA is only one part. Today, democracy is threatened by the chilling effects of surveillance. Resisting may have its moment, and we may be called to courageous action. But what's needed on a daily basis is steady and digitally informed engagement based on values that have marked robust Christian involvement in the past—such as democratic participation, social justice, and human dignity.

So, should we resist greater government surveillance? Yes, if it is uncaring, and if it makes certain groups and individuals more vulnerable. We should be concerned about all kinds of surveillance—in schools, churches, neighborhoods, marketing, policing, and management—as well as in the nsa. As we seek to hold them accountable, we remember we're all accountable to the One before whom all creation is laid bare (Heb. 4:13).

DAVID LYON is director of the Surveillance Studies Centre, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario.

No, It's the Wrong Fight

Rachael Jackson

My heartbeat is that of a soldier. I enlisted in the Army at age 18 and graduated from West Point six years later. In Iraq, I served as a captain and Apache helicopter pilot. After a medical discharge and difficult transition to civilian life, I can say God wanted me to be a soldier—just not for the reasons I originally thought.

I know the value of intelligence. There are no clear frontlines in the war on terrorism. Intelligence is the greatest weapon we have to equalize the battlefield and neutralize potential threats. As an American citizen, I understand the idea that big government can be scary. As a Christian, I feel it can be invasive and may infringe on our religious freedom.

In The Christian Century, Daniel Schultz contends that we should resist negotiating for our perceived safety and security in exchange for freedom. He invites Christians to scrutinize this promise of security from our government, claiming, "History shows how easily national security becomes conflated with maintaining the political status quo. Jesus, after all, was executed as a threat to the Roman government of Palestine."

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The battle between freedom and security persists. But is it a battle we should be fighting? When U.S. Christians engage in this fight, we likely overestimate our perceived freedom and focus our efforts in the wrong place: our safety. Should our safety be what we are seeking in the first place? Biblically speaking, shouldn't we as Christ followers welcome the same fate that befell Jesus? "Do you remember what I told you? 'A slave isn't greater than his master!' So since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you" (John 15:20, TLB).

As American Christians, where does this leave us? Let me suggest the following: pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1–4); give unto Caesar what is Caesar's (Matt. 22:21); and educate ourselves to vote wisely for Christian leaders and their oversight in our government (Prov. 28:12).

As long as we are not mandated to do something that contradicts the teachings of Christ, we are free to quit battling the government. Then, together, we can go about the business of making disciples and sharing the gospel.

When we are tempted to fight the government on issues with little eternal impact, we need to remember what matters in God's eyes. It is highly doubtful that anyone will ever be saved because of a battle waged against government surveillance. Jesus converts hearts. The struggle for hearts is our true battlefield. That is why God invited me (and you) to put on his whole armor as a soldier for Christ.

RACHAEL JACKSON is the founding editor of Shattered magazine.

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