NSA’s excuse for snooping on innocent citizens -- namely, that it can prevent serious harm to us, might even save lives -- is spurious.  If you incarcerated us all, that, too, might do all that. Free men and women are, of course, capable of violence, even murder, but unless it is proven that they are embarking on these, unless the burden of proof is fully met, they must be left free.  The job of protecting the citizenry must be carried out without violating their rights.  That is the spirit behind constitutional government, especially the American Bill of Rights.  If you sign up to work in the security professions, you must adhere to strict standards and do your job without violating them.  You must cope with the limits and not run rampant unrestrained.  (It is a bit like medical research and experimentation--it is all very important but doesn’t justify ignoring the basic rights of patients and subjects!)

That our government officials fail to grasp all this is truly a disaster.  When they refuse to act within the limits posed by our individual rights, they are a far greater danger than terrorism!  Indeed, they become like terrorists, making use of arbitrary means to reach their goals!  Nothing excuses it!  The oath of office of all security professionals includes a commitment to act without doing violence of the rights of the citizenry, including to their right to privacy and due process.

When I joined the US Air Force I had to swear allegiance to the U. S. Constitution.  Same when I took the oath and became a U. S. Citizen.  Doing all this had to do with what constitutes limited government.  One must not violate the rights of the citizenry while serving in the military or even while being a citizen.  In plain terms, one may be a member of the military and a citizen provided one refrains from violating the rights of others.  The details may be complicated at times but the principle is the same: No attacks on other people, no violence against them and their property, without following due process.

The NSA, too, is restrained along these lines: to discover if someone is a threat to the country, one must follow certain procedures.  If one fails to do so, one is a criminal, not a security officer.

No doubt carrying out one’s duties in the capacity of a security officer can be a challenge, just as it is a challenge to carry out one’s duties as a police officer, soldier, etc.  But that is how one serves in the security services of a free country, not by taking shortcuts.