This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," June 8, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the NSA's data mining programs. Another example of government overreach or a necessary tool in the fight against terror?
Plus, the hits keep on coming for the IRS. Cincinnati workers claim Washington officials helped direct the Tea Party probe. And Congress goes after lavish spending at the embattled agency.
And President Obama hits the road to tout his health care overhaul and he claims that premiums go down in the nation's largest state. Should you believe that?
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
Outrage from both the left and the right after the U.K. Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday that Verizon has been handing over phone data for all of its customers to the National Security Agency under a secret court order. Subsequent reports reveal that the monitoring is broader, including data from all three major phone companies, as well as credit card and all Internet records. Critics are calling the wide-scale surveillance another troubling example of government overreach but the White House calls it a critical tool in the fight against terror.
Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady; editorial board members Matt Kaminski and Joe Rago.
Let's get some facts on the table here, Joe. The government is collecting under this court order meta data, telephonic meta data. What is meta data?
JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Meta data is basically data about data. For a phone call, it is which number called which number, how long the call lasted, and that kind of information. Information about the call, but not the content of the call. So it is not eavesdropping. It's not the lives of others. It's essentially just --
GIGOT: It is not what I'm saying to you on the phone?
RAGO: Right --
GIGOT: It's just the fact that I called you, what my number was, and what your number was. And why are they doing this? What do they hope to get out of this? Critically, with the breadth of the surveillance.
RAGO: What they are looking for is, essentially, they are looking for the needle in the haystack, right, and this is the hay stack.
GIGOT: The terrorists' activity?
RAGO: Right. So what they're looking for is what's normal. They are saying, hey, hey, hey. And when there is a deviation from that normal baseline, that's the needle. So it's much like credit card companies are on the lookout for fraud. Maybe you go on a shopping spree in a totally new city, they might flag that as unusual or suspicious.
GIGOT: Because maybe your credit card has been stolen.
Mary, what do you think of this? What is your view of that kind of data gathering?
MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: Paul, when I look at a program that collects this information about what American citizens are doing, run by the federal government and specifically the Obama administration, I think, what could go wrong?
You know, honestly, we had a federal government program that let high-powered weapons be carried over the Mexican border in the drug war that was designed by our Justice Department. We had ObamaCare. Don't worry, you are going to be able to keep your doctor. We've got it under control. We had Benghazi. I don't have to go into the details of that. We've had the IRS event. We had the surveillance of a FOX News reporter. You have to see this in the context of this administration. This is why people are upset, because they feel like you have an administration that is not accountable for the misuse of power when it happens.
GIGOT: But --
O'GRADY: Even if it doesn't come from the top.
GIGOT: But the administration would say, look, this had been going on in the Bush administration, so it's not us. In fact, we're better than the Bush administration because we put this all, subject this all to a court order and the judge has signed off on this.
O'GRADY: I think the reach was broader than it has been before. And I think that, you know, it is a continuation in a way that -- people feel they were mislead this administration feels it is going to be less intrusive in our lives. We had the director of National Intelligence, in an open hearing, say there wasn't any such thing going on. So people feel like they have been lied to.
MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: But in the other cases, there has been clear abuse or competence in government authority. In this case, there is no victim here. This was a very narrow program. Yes, we got all of the numbers, as Joe was explaining, you need that data to be able to find --
KAMINSKI: But they were trying to find al Qaeda terrorists either in the country or outside the country using very sophisticated electronic tools. If the government were to use that information to do anything else, to tap your phone, they have to go back to a judge and say, we found this, we have probably cause to think someone has done something, is doing something bad, can we look into their e-mail or listen in on their phone calls?
GIGOT: Do you think there has been abuse on this, Mary, or is more the concern that there could be abuse of this data?
O'GRADY: Oh, yes. No, for sure, it is the "could be." I think the -- the reason why I go through this track record is that in each of these cases, the higher ups, the management says, hey, we didn't know what was going on. So either they are not doing their jobs or they are lying. But that is very disconcerting.
GIGOT: But the Congress has approved this and been in on this. In fact, Saxby Chambliss, the Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said just about every member of the Senate has known about this for years and then you have the FISA court, which doesn't reassure me because I don't think judges have any particular expertise about this.
KAMINSKI: Right. That was supposed to be the check on this type of surveillance.
KAMINSKI: This is during the Bush years. They say you are doing this with a warrant, you're going after these people without controls. Now, everything is being run through this secret FISA court, subject to unelected judges, and that was supposed to fix the problem.
O'GRADY: There is a question about what good it does, I think. You have the Tsarnaev brothers on the watch list, and they weren't being watched.
GIGOT: They could have found them out perhaps by looking at the YouTube video --
-- which didn't require this kind of, this kind of --
O'GRADY: Yeah, they're collecting this mountain of evidence, which could be abused, and then, as I said, what good is it?