This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," June 15, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," charges of Big Brother abound in the wake of the NSA surveillance leaks. But in the era of IRS targeting, government-run health care and exploding federal regulations, should data mining be your biggest worry? And will shutting the program down diminish our terror-fighting abilities?
Plus, a new front in the battle over free speech on campus. Do just- released federal guidelines endanger faculty and student rights?
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
Charges of Big Brother from both the left and the right this week in the wake of the NSA surveillance controversy. The leaks couldn't have come at a worse time, with polls showing the public's trust in government already at historic lows. So, in an era of IRS targeting, government-run health care and runaway federal regulations, how worried should we be? And is data mining our biggest threat?
Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady; and editorial board member, Joe Rago.
So, Dan, explain something to me. These programs began under George W. Bush. They have had bipartisan support. So what explains the uproar now against them?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, you know, Paul, I think it's two things. It's sort of -- it's basically the dramatic way in which these so-called leaks were published a week or so ago. And the word "data mining," which is a buzzword, and even the people who created data mining will admit it's a weird-sounding word. But the NSA has been doing that for many, many years, scanning like that.
HENNINGER: And, you know, the telephone calls and -- between suspected terrorists overseas and people here, was one of the biggest fights of the Bush administration, a public fight. We worked that out and made an accommodation on how we were going to do it.
GIGOT: Right. And Congress has passed -- have sanctified it once in law and re-upped it again last year.
HENNINGER: I think one of the most significant things that came out this week, Paul, the testimony of General Alexander, who is the head of the cyber warfare office for the White House, and he said at one point that they, within a week, would make public at least a dozen of the terrorist plots that have been stopped using this technology. For the life of me, I don't know why they haven't done that before this to at least let the public see some justification for doing these technologies.
GIGOT: A lot of people's reaction is, "We don't believe you. You're just doing this now because, you know, you're under pressure."
HENNINGER: Paul, if the White House said the sunrises in the east and sets in the west, 25 percent of the population is going to say, that's not true.
I mean, this is a democracy. But you have to -- if you're in a position of leadership, it is your job to execute programs like this and protect the American people and take the occasional flack like we've had the past week.
GIGOT: Mary, you said last week that you have real doubts about this program. But let's start and think back for a second about the purposes of government. Wouldn't you agree that government -- the first obligation of government is the public safety of its citizens?
MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: Yeah. Unless you're an anarchist, you believe that there's a role for government. And protecting citizens is certainly at the top of the list.
But I think that what's happened here is that a program that could protect us has been undermined by a president who uses terms like, you know, we're looking for shadowy groups and, of course --
GIGOT: Donors of his opponents.
O'GRADY: Yeah. And he -- he calls his opponents enemies, his political adversaries.
You know, another thing General Alexander said yesterday, or last week, was that, you know, the main thing that is important here is trust. He used that word "trust" several times in his testimony. And I think that -- that gets to the core of the problem. People do not trust this president and the way that he's managed the government more broadly to execute this program.
GIGOT: But did you trust this program under George W. Bush?
O'GRADY: Well, the program's broader than it was under George W. Bush. The question is, do we believe that courts and Congress, you know, using oversight, can stop any abuse? And the other problem is --
GIGOT: How would you answer that question?
O'GRADY: Well, it's not clear to me it can. And part of that is not just because the president doesn't execute leadership, but also because there is, you know, all these analysts working for the program, one of them who is in Hong Kong right now, who seems to have gotten, you know -- who seems to have leaked information he had. Why couldn't that happen with a variety of other people in the organization?
GIGOT: Joe, you're not as worried about this program as Mary. Put this in context of all the other scandals about government expansion that we've been talking about and writing about for many months, the IRS, you've written about Obama-care extensively. Where do you put this data mining threat, if you want to put it in those terms, compared to these other government powers?
JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I would draw a pretty critical distinction between national security programs and some of the domestic programs that use the same kind of tools. You know, if you're -- the anti- terror surveillance and the other architects of the war on terror, you can't just operate it during periods of Republican benevolence. You have to --
GIGOT: Presumed benevolence.
RAGO: You have to have trust in kind of an administration to fight this.
One interesting thing is trust in government is adversary proportional to what the government is trying to do.
GIGOT: The more it expands --
GIGOT: -- the less trust.
RAGO: The less people trust it. And so one thing is that I think President Obama has undermined trust in something that's critical like NSA with things like hiring 19,000 IRS agents to enforce the Affordable Care Act. And people look at that and go, well, I don't know if this translates.
GIGOT: Mary, I'm more troubled by the IRS scandal, because the IRS can come in there and can seize your wages, it can seize property without recourse. It could do that to you very easily. It has the power -- and very little recourse. This is just a program that kind of takes data, I don't care by phone numbers -- they know about my phone numbers.