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Froma Harrop - Orlando is why we need surveillance

The FBI had the Orlando gunman under watch — twice — and, after much consideration, decided to stop following him. Was this a mistake? Obviously, tragically so.

But in this massive lost opportunity to prevent a slaughter dwells a positive sign for our ability to stop future attacks. Law enforcement at least had its eye on him. Scarier would have been that it had never heard of Omar Mateen.

Protests against government surveillance programs tend to grow in the quiet stretches between terrorist outrages. Absence of immediate fear is when the critics can best downplay the stakes — that even one miscreant can kill large numbers, and with weapons far deadlier than assault rifles.

It's when privacy advocates have the most success portraying surveillance programs as highly personal invasions of ordinary folks' privacy. Actually, there's nothing very personal in the National Security Agency's collection of our communications metadata. Basically, computers rummage through zillions of emails and such in search of patterns to flag. The humans following leads have zero interest in your complaints about Obamacare, as some foes of the surveillance programs have ludicrously claimed.

In the Orlando case, co-workers had alerted the authorities to Mateen's radical rantings. The FBI put him on a terrorist watchlist, monitoring him for months. He was taken off when investigators concluded he was just mouthing off. The FBI had reason to probe him again, but again he was turned loose.

That was a failure, but a failure highlighting a weakness in the surveillance laws. The FBI dropped the case because the standard for showing probable cause — evidence of a crime or intent to commit one — is too high for needle-in-haystack terrorism investigations.

(Note that a local sheriff was able to use Mateen's ravings as reason to have him removed from security guard duty at the St. Lucie County Courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida.)

The bureau clearly erred in expecting a real terrorist to be informed. That Mateen had expressed sympathy for both al-Qaida and the Islamic State — groups in conflict with each other — was apparently seen as a sign that the man wasn't seriously engaged in their politics.

Perhaps not, but he seriously approved of their bloody activities. That should have spelled danger, especially when added to his history of mental instability and spousal abuse and possible sexual confusion (an apparently new consideration).

But the FBI has been dealing with thousands of cases of potential homegrown terrorists not unlike Mateen. It must also consider that expressing support for a terrorist organization is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.

We need a new standard for potential terrorists inspired by online jihadist propaganda. Meanwhile, the public should back law enforcement's stance on encryption. Recall the FBI's battle to force Apple to unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the San Bernardino gunman.

Privacy advocates have harshly rapped President Obama for defending the government surveillance programs he himself once criticized. There's a simple difference between them and him (and then and now): Obama receives the daily threat reports, and they don't.

Government surveillance programs do need rules. Court review is important. But it simply isn't true that public safety can be maintained in the age of lone-wolf terrorism without considerable surveillance. And the risks advocates ask us to take on in the name of privacy should be addressed honestly.

The parade of major terrorist attacks — Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels and now Orlando — has sped up. The more horror the less the public cares about reining in surveillance activities. Defenders of privacy should recognize this reality and more carefully choose their battles. The quiet times seem no more.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

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Doris Morrissette (6-17) 514 TOPLESS

To The Daily Sun,

After reading the various letters concerning the issue of female toplessness on our local beaches, I just have this to say. This, in my opinion, should not be about whether people should have equal "rights" to expose their bodies to the view of others, or a matter of showing pride in the human body. It should be a time to re-examine what we as a society consider sacred, worthy of respect, and private. Is there anything left that we won't share with the rest of the world? We seem to have such a need to let it all hang out in public, where literally anyone can see you, download your private life, or steal your identity. Is there anything that's truly our own anymore?
Like it or not, people judge by appearances — by how we dress (or not), how we talk and behave in public. Like it or not, men's and women's bodies are very different, and each sex reacts differently to certain visual cues. Men tend to be more visually stimulated than women, and that is why we women need to be careful of how we present ourselves in public.
I am not making men out to be animals, unable to control themselves — far from it. I am saying that we need to rediscover what makes men and women wonderfully different from each other, and respect those differences enough to control our own desires for the good of others. To assume that all people will act the same way, and respect someone who goes topless just because it's expected of them, is naïve and foolish. To insist on all things being equal for all people is unrealistic, and ultimately self-defeating. When we try to make a world where "anything goes", in the end what's good and right goes too, right out the window.
The mark of maturity in relation to our bodies is not the casting aside of clothing, but the awareness of the profound dignity of the human person as a whole, including the body. When a woman knows her true value, and that she is worthy of respect from others because she is a PERSON, then there is no need to be topless to prove that she is as good as the men.
One letter writer said that we should teach our children to love and be proud of their bodies, like he was taught, or don't bring them out. How far should we take that? Should we let infants go diaperless (ew!), or little girls and boys go without a swimsuit just so they can be proud of their bodies? What is the limit? Is it really necessary to expose your bodies to others to have equal rights, or is it just done to get attention and admiration? Even the Europeans, with their many topless beaches, have to impose some limits on behavior, or there would be chaos and car accidents. If we halt nudity at the gates to our beaches, it could be a tool to help people know what the boundaries

Doris Morrissette

Laconia

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