Reading the recent letters excoriating Bart Gellman ’82 (Q&A, Jan. 8), I am reminded of the wisdom of James Madison 1771 (Federalist 51): “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
I am sure the American security officials believe their measures are necessary to protect us from terrorists, even though to keep us safe they cannot tell us how or why. But Gellman and his source, Edward Snowden, show us that we suffer a secret surveillance network answering to secret (lax) protocols nominally enforced by secret (complacent) courts that moreover are secretly ignored (spying on love interests, etc.). Secret internal controls on government do not work; they have never worked. The maligned eavesdroppers of the East German Stasi kept their country safe from terrorists and insurrectionists, but I choose to live in the United States, and I would like open, published, enforced limits on government’s right to snoop on my phone calls without a warrant.