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Scaling back NSA snooping is right call

President Obama should take the advice of the panel he chose to assess the National Security Agency’s expansive spying program. They recommended in a report released Thursday that the snooping program be sharply curbed. And they gave a very compelling reason – it’s not working.

Writes the panel, which had access to significant classified information: “Our review suggests that the information [gathered from the phone records] was not essential to preventing [terrorist] attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.”

Further, the report notes, the NSA’s storage of phone data “creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty” and that as a general rule, “the government should not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information” about Americans to be mined for foreign intelligence purposes.

The report comes on the heels of a federal judge’s ruling Monday that described the technology used to search the NSA database as “almost Orwellian.” The judge said the collection was “almost certainly” unconstitutional.

Taken together, these moves provide a powerful case for substantial changes. After the-9/11 attacks, the federal government wisely looked at ways to shore up the intelligence community and put in place strategies to better monitor potential threats. It would be imprudent to become lax in that vigilance today. And as panel member Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, aptly noted, “We are not in any way recommending the disarming of the intelligence community.”

But the excesses of the NSA program are clear, and reforms must be enacted. The president and Congress must work together to scale back this unnecessarily intrusive program – and they must not delay in doing so.

Safeguarding children is everyone’s responsibility

It was bad enough that a child was found last month in Union County handcuffed to a porch, shivering in the cold with a dead chicken tied around his neck, and that law enforcers found inhumane and abusive conditions at the home where he and four other children lived. Now there are reports that officials at the charter school the children attended tried to relay suspicions of neglect to the state Department of Social Services to no avail.

How many ways can adults fail to protect these children?

School officials said they had noticed the children came to school hungry and disheveled. Knowing that the children’s mother worked at the Union County Department of Social Services as a manager, they called the state DSS twice and got no return call. Wanda Larson, who was the county’s child protective services supervisor, has been arrested and along with Dorian Harper faces charges of felony child abuse and false imprisonment.

State officials say it is the county’s responsibility to handle child abuse cases, not the state’s. But as Bob Goodale, another person who reported the neglect earlier rightly noted: “This was not handled right.”

Someone dropped the ball and left vulnerable children in a bad and dangerous situation from which they could have been rescued much earlier. That’s unacceptable.

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