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Originally published Friday, June 7, 2013 at 4:49 PM

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Editorial: Federal snooping program PRISM is troubling

The PRISM email-interception program is one more example of federal power unconstrained by law.

Seattle Times Editorial

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A FEDERAL document reveals a program called PRISM that scoops up email, chats, videos, photos, stored data, Internet phone calls, file transfers, video conferences and logins from nine different Internet providers.

The companies deny it. Not us, says Microsoft. Never heard of PRISM, says Apple.

Do we believe the companies?

Maybe they were hacked by their own government. At the very least, the companies should help the public get to the bottom of this issue.

President Obama says, “There are a whole bunch of safeguards involved” in what the government did. Should we believe him?

Skepticism is in order here.

The program was secret. And when the president says it does not involve reading “the emails of U.S. citizens and U.S. residents,” how sure are we of that?

Not nearly enough. Especially when the federal employee who leaked this says, “they quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.”

Has Congress been a check on the executive power? No. Have the courts? Not in this instance, which involves a tribunal in which there never is an opposing counsel and which operates in secret.

How often does this court ever say “no”? Supposedly it’s once in every 3,000 to 4,000 requests, but those reports are a decade old.

How does this square with “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”? The Fourth Amendment seems to define a lawful search entirely in terms of what PRISM is not.

Two years ago, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., asked Attorney General Eric Holder the still-salient question: How can the people judge a program when they are not told what it is?

This page supported Barack Obama. So did the voters of Washington. Obama was for “change.” But on the matter of secret killing by aerial drone, on detention without trial at Guantánamo, and now on the mass interception of mail by the national security state, where is the change?

The essence of the Constitution is power constrained by law. We are looking for the constraint and not seeing it.

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