Is the government spying on you? Is there anything wrong with that?
As the story continues to unfold in the press this week, ask your students to follow the coverage as well as the opinions. Remember to check the Editorial page and the political cartoons. Ask students to score who is supporting the president's actions and who is critical.
Check the language with a critical eye to find loaded words that indicate a possible bias one way or the other. For example, did the president "acknowledge" the spying or did he "admit" the spying? What's the difference? Are there other phrases like this in news stories that indicate a "spin" is being applied?
Is this a major damaging revelation or a tempest in a teapot? Will news coverage dwindle rapidly or will investigations and allegations continue to surface and keep the story on the front page for a long time? Ask your students to make their best guess in weighing the importance of the domestic spying issue.
A New York Times article on Friday has ignited a political firestorm by revealing that the government secretly monitored -- without court approval -- international phone calls and e-mail messages that originated in the United States. Critics say that government eavesdropping on hundreds if not thousands of Americans is a violation of civil liberties.
President Bush, acknowledging that he approved the domestic spying, cited the need to protect the nation from terrorist threats ''This authorization is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives." The president said that his war on terrorism is targeting not only "enemies across the world" but "terrorists here at home."
But critics called it a "shocking admission." A weekend Washington Post editorial stated: "Illegal government spying on Americans is a violation of individual liberties, whether conditions are troubled or not. Nobody with a real regard for the rule of law and the Constitution would have difficulty seeing that."
Do the ends justify the means? The administration credited the domestic spying program with uncovering several terrorist plots, including one plot revealed in 2003 that involved destroying the Brooklyn Bridge. If having the government read your email potentially saves lives, is giving up that privacy too much to ask? Where do you draw the line on what the government can know about you? What harm is there in a program like this?
What do you have to hide? Critics say that the president's approval of a program that allows spying on Americans conflicts with a U.S. law that says such surveillance must be court-approved. Bush said the program has been reviewed regularly by the nation's top legal authorities and targets only those people with "a clear link to these terrorist networks." Why should ordinary citizens -- with no ties to terrorists -- be concerned about this program? If you have nothing to hide, why worry?
Can we even talk about it? President Bush blasted the publication of the article and said that "the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies and endangers our country." Should the press be allowed to alert us of potential government violations of civil liberties -- even if that alerts our enemies as well? What if the president acts to prevent stories like this from being published through censorship in defense of national security? Would you agree with that?
Who's watching the watchers? The president admonished the press for publishing the story, saying the publication hurt the war on terror by letting the enemy know what we were doing. But critics say the president should have followed the established procedure and gone to the courts to get permission for wiretaps and surveillance. So who went too far in your opinion? Did the press recklessly publish information it shouldn't have? Or did the president abuse his power and violate the law by ignoring the courts and Congress?
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