MARC CHASE: Government's veil of secrecy threatens all of us

2013-05-23T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Government's veil of secrecy threatens all of usMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
May 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Have you felt the weightlessness in the past couple of weeks? It's the rapid descent of some of our most basic constitutional rights at both the federal and state levels of government.

At the risk of sounding like an alarmist — which is rarely a good way to get a point across — shouldn't we all be outraged that the U.S. Department of Justice clandestinely seized Associated Press phone records without so much as a warning or chance for appeal?

And what about the new Indiana law coming dangerously close to allowing local government officials to lie about the existence of certain investigatory police records? It's not that we haven't grown accustomed to untruths told by some of our government officials, but to put it into law is indeed alarming.

Full disclosure: I obviously work for the press, and these measures impact the news-gathering process. But they also are affronts to the First Amendment that protects all of us.

Protecting the news-gathering process ensures whistle-blowers and others seeking to divulge information can do so without fear of reprisal.

But in Orwellian fashion, the U.S. Department of Justice recently seized phone records of our nation's biggest news wire service, apparently seeking sources of potential government leaks. It sounds like the outrageous plot line of an Oliver Stone conspiracy flick. But it's not. It's real.

Apparently it's easier for the U.S. attorney general to trample on a long-protected tenet of our Constitution than to stop national security "leaks" from within.

National security is their argument here. But how secure are any of us if the government erodes basic constitutional rights, and where does it stop?

As former President Richard Nixon learned in the Watergate scandal, you are who you surround yourself with. Better screening of federal employees entrusted with "classified" government information would be preferable to trampling on the First Amendment.

It's disturbing when government lacks enough of its own intelligence to discern the truth and must rely on seizing the supposedly protected property of others.

Another disturbing move came recently with the passage of a law allowing local government officials to neither confirm nor deny the existence of police records if the officials feel it might impede a law enforcement investigation.

Is anyone else as concerned about the potential abuses of this new law? It's another government veil obscuring transparency and rife for abuse by unscrupulous decision makers.

There is almost never a good reason for anyone in government to operate in the shadows. Recent laws and precedents are making it easier for that to happen. If that doesn't inspire outrage, nothing will.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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