Hacked off at the South Carolina Department of Revenue?
You should be. The DOR’s stunning incompetence allowed our financial records — and Social Security numbers — to be stolen in the murky cyber realm last year.
Creeped out by the National Security Agency?
You should be. The NSA’s “counter-terror” pretense grabs huge volumes of personal email and phone records.
What’s worse? The clueless DOR’s failure to protect tax data or the overzealous NSA’s mission to invade privacy?
As our front-page headline put the DOR debacle Sunday: “Millions of residents at risk for life after data stolen from Revenue Department.”
As 1st District Rep. Mark Sanford, during a visit to this newspaper last Thursday, put the still-unraveling NSA scandal: “I think it’s deeply troubling.”
The DOR’s unwitting debacle is bad. But the NSA’s intentional intrusion is worse.
Sanford cited the House’s narrow 217-205 margin rejecting a defense-appropriations amendment from Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., to scrap funding for the NSA program that collects Americans’ phone records. All seven members (six Republicans, one Democrat) of the S.C. House delegation went against Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to vote for the amendment.
That was six weeks ago. Since then, NSA defenders’ case has been further eroded by what Sanford aptly called the “drip, drip, drip” of their reassurances refuted.
Sanford: “I bet if that vote was taken now, Amash would win.”
The eyes in the sky
Sanford also looked beyond the Beltway to “a really interesting coalition that’s forming” on this issue between “liberal civil libertarians, very conservative Republicans and new-age techies who understand what’s really going on in that world versus the, you know, sort of old-guard neo-cons, if you wanna call them that.”
Those “old-guard neo-cons” rationalizing NSA excesses include our state’s senior U.S. senator, Lindsey Graham.
Their pitch: The NSA snoopers are merely collecting, not reading and listening to, those emails and phone calls.
Feel better yet?
Sanford predicted that “ultimately” the anti-NSA movement “will prevail.”
Don’t count it. In this scary new world, chances are rising that somebody’s watching or hearing you. That’s an un-American shame.
Is NSA leaker Edward Snowden, now on the lam in Russia, un-American, too?
Sanford: “If Snowden hadn’t a done it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation as a country. I’ll leave it to others to decide whether that makes him a traitor or a hero.”
More from Sanford on that national “conversation”:
“I’ve long been concerned about civil liberties. I vetoed that bill as governor wherein law enforcement wanted to be able to basically take blood [actually, DNA swabs] without conviction. And so I teamed up with the NAACP in saying, ‘No, we have a tradition in this country where you’re innocent till proven guilty.’ ”
And we had a tradition in this state of lawmakers overriding most of Sanford’s many gubernatorial vetoes — including that one of the DNA collection bill. At least that DOR fiasco didn’t happen on Sanford’s watch. It came on current Gov. Nikki Haley’s.
And on Sanford’s new congressional watch in Washington, he joined 139 other House members, 21 of them Democrats, last week in signing a letter to President Barack Obama calling for him to get legislative authorization before attacking Syria. Obama rightly agreed on Saturday to seek that approval.
From ‘1984’ to 2013
Meanwhile, Sanford rightly stands his ground against an all-seeing (and hearing) government: “The idea of a Big Brother in all areas of life is not something that’s consistent with the conservative cause or message or the theme of liberty.”
Of course, when an elected official’s private life violates the people’s trust, that fairly becomes the public’s business — and that politician fairly becomes a punch line.
Sanford: “I guess I’m Example 101, but at some point in all of our lives, we’re gonna do something or some things that we regret. We’re gonna make mistakes. I mean that is part of the human existence. Do we really need to have government with access to things that people might want private?”
No, but we’ve got one.
And if you think NSA and DOR are ominous acronyms, brace yourself for the scariest three letters of all:
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is email@example.com.