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MONDAY, JUNE 26, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Fighting terrorism doesn't negate Americans' privacy

The arrests of seven men in Miami and Atlanta, accused of plotting to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower and other buildings, occurred Thursday — the same day that another secret surveillance program by the Bush administration came to light.

Maybe the two matters were connected. Five of the arrested people are U.S. citizens, demonstrating that terrorist threats do not come only from foreigners and that sometimes our government needs to watch its own people. Perhaps the financial information that the government collected in the newly revealed program helped investigators build their case against the seven alleged terrorists.

We are glad the FBI and other investigators caught these people. We realize that authorities need reasonable tools, minimal interference and a degree of secrecy to stop those who are plotting against the United States.

But the mounting evidence that the Bush administration is collecting data that could compromise the privacy of innocent Americans troubles us.

The latest revelation is that U.S. counterterrorism analysts have been allowed to obtain information from a financial database through which a company in Belgium handles about 11 million transactions daily among 7,800 banks and other financial institutions in 200 countries.

Earlier, Americans learned that the National Security Agency was monitoring international telephone calls, faxes and e-mails without bothering to seek secret court approval as provided by law. Later, news reports revealed that the NSA had built a huge database of foreign and domestic telephone calls, through which it hoped to find calling patterns that would expose terrorist activity.

You have to wonder what other snooping is going on but hasn't come to light yet.

President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others would say not to worry, that they're just looking after our best interests and we should trust them. But Americans rightly recoil from the prospect of too much power being exercised secretly. Most of the time, citizens should be watching their government, not the other way around.

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