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GUEST OPINION: Local lawmakers should oppose NSA spying on Americans


Revelations about the Obama administration's secret surveillance of American citizens are causing widespread alarm.

While some members of Congress from Northern California have publicly addressed the matter, the two from our area have so far failed to speak up after news broke about the spying by the National Security Agency. Why so much silence from Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Santa Rosa, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants us to believe that the NSA's snooping on our telephone records is no big deal because it's "metadata." Yet in this era of supercomputers, such information is highly intrusive.

Despite the Fourth Amendment, a dragnet is pulling in huge quantities of personal information without anything near "probable cause."

Make no mistake about it: The government is compiling vast data on the phone calls placed and received by everyone in the United States — you, me, my mother, your grandmother, your daughter's fianc?.

Whoever compiles this metadata can learn a great deal about us: whom we called, who they called, when the calls took place and how long they lasted, where the calls originated and where the recipients were located. It's as intrusive as listening in on the actual content of the calls.

The Press Democrat wisely wrote in its June 13 editorial: "Contrary to the contentions of some, we don't believe that living in a digital age and in a time of terrorism obligates Americans to abandon a presumption of privacy."

Progressive Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, representing the East Bay, said: "The right to privacy in this country is non-negotiable. We have a system of checks and balances in place to protect our most basic civil liberties, and while I believe that national security is paramount, we must move forward in a way that does not sacrifice our American values and freedoms."

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, released a statement saying: "I am deeply disturbed by the National Security Agency's wholesale surveillance of phone and online activity of Americans without just cause. . . . I believe all Americans should be extremely wary of this type of largescale data gathering of personal, private online data."

But in sharp contrast, more than two weeks after the stunning revelations, the two members of the House who represent Sonoma County and neighboring counties were still ducking public comment, keeping their heads down.

Their official websites lack any statement on the issue. We still don't know where they stand.

We need our elected representatives to provide leadership when our rights are in question.

Constituents of Huffman and Thompson deserve to know where their members of Congress stand on the all-important issue of disappearing civil liberties. We need to know whether they are truly committed to preservation of our Fourth Amendment rights.

But with precious civil liberties at stake, the silences from Congressmen Thompson and Huffman are deafening. This is not the leadership we need.

(Alice Chan is an elected delegate to the California Democratic Central Committee and co-chair of the Coalition for Grassroots Progress. She lives in Sebastopol.)