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Collins Column: Transparency, National Security, and Integrity


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The people we trust to enforce the laws matter. If you know my dad, you know he's dedicated most of his life to enforcing our state's laws as a Georgia State Trooper. The example he set was one of integrity, trust, and honesty. I remembered that later in life when I found myself studying law at John Marshall and helping make laws at the same time as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, and I think of it often now in Congress.

The letter of the law is important, but those who carry out the law matter. That's what makes the building file of news stories about the actions of the National Security Agency (NSA)--and President Obama's role in them--a real cause for Congressional concern.

Finding the balance between certainty in civil liberties and vigilance in national security is one of the great challenges of our modern times. Congress tried to act in good faith over the last decade to strike that balance, but it's evident that the intent of these laws has to be made more clear, especially in how they're applied to American citizens.

It used to be that we drafted laws based on their necessity. Now, we have to draft laws in a way that factors in the political motivations of those we're supposed to trust to enforce them.

In the last few months alone, President Obama's Administration has failed to provide reasonable explanations about abuses in domestic surveillance. From diligent reporters to our close allies, it seems no one is safe from President Obama's habit of spying without disclosure. On top of that, there are still too many unanswered questions about how much information the NSA has collected on Americans who have never meant this country any harm.

This divided Congress is a reflection of a divided country in many ways, but if there's any issue I've seen Republicans and Democrats find common ground over, it's been looking for solutions to protect our civil liberties. Last week, I joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers to sponsor legislation that would allow tech companies, like cell phone service providers and Internet-based services like Facebook, to make public the number of requests they receive from the federal government and how many individuals those requests impact. In the name of security and individual privacy we're not asking for the details, but understanding the scope of those requests is vital.

Congress has to make sure we clarify the proper objectives of our intelligence community, and that if law-abiding Americans are impacted, it's done in a constitutional way.

I trusted my dad to enforce the law with honesty and fairness because I knew what kind of man he was. Personal integrity is something you can't legislate, but systemic integrity is something we have to build now. With a president like this one, transparency is non-negotiable.

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