Security policy should be more clearcut

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President Barack Obama could help the whole world start the new year on a bright note by listening to an expert panel that has recommended reining in the eavesdropping practices of the National Security Agency.

A federal judge last week ruled that the NSA practices have been constitutional, but many of us believe the massive collection of phone data from millions of private American citizens is an egregious and unnecessary overreach. As the president has noted in one of his more clear-headed moments, “Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.”

That’s an insightful comment in principle, but it needs to be backed up in writing. That’s why the president and Congress should work together to spell out clear legal guidelines on what intelligence gatherers should be allowed to do and what they shouldn’t be allowed to do.

The expert panel studying the issue has offered 46 recommendations on ways to allow the NSA and other agencies to do their jobs in the interests of national security, but respect Americans’ rights to privacy, as well.

The American people, foreign heads of state and many members of Congress have loudly expressed their opposition to the NSA’s information fishing expeditions. Obama has offered a sympathetic ear. But there’s no guarantee that future presidents or members of Congress will be as open to reason.

Put the policy in writing now, while the issue is still hot. Doing so will offer a little peace of mind to millions of Americans today -- and in generations to come.