By Tom Ehrich

Whatever you think of National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, his disclosure of a massive domestic spying enterprise has launched an important debate over such activities.

Internet giants like Google and Facebook might feel constrained in what they say about their compulsory role, but citizens and press commentators need feel no constraint whatsoever.

Some defend the agency’s spying on as many American citizens as it can; some deplore it as a violation of basic civil liberties. All commentators seem mindful that 21st Century terrorism has changed the context dramatically. And yet, they ask, can threat of an attack be turned into a massive fishing expedition affecting all citizens who use cell phones, email through Google and other large vendors, and social media?

Clearly, this debate is long overdue. I sense many feel betrayed by the very government that promised it would never do such things. And here they have been at it for twelve years.

What is the greater danger? That a terrorist cell or individual will find a way through the airport scanners and other detection systems and cause mayhem, or that the so-called “Surveillance State” will pass from hand to hand, government to government, until it reaches hands that use it for oppression?

This choice needs to be ours to make, not the government’s. I welcome a vigorous discussion. We can’t avoid all danger, so let’s decide which danger we will accept.

Personally, I have seen enough of partisan extremists and conspiracy zealots to know that I don’t ever want the NSA’s tools to fall into their hands. Same with religious extremists.

I also am pleased that the domestic spying debate is forcing us to consider the hypocrisy, behind-the-scenes thuggery and outright lying of those who are supposedly looking out for our interests.

When a government believes it can keep its people safe by lying to them, the system has gone off the rails. What kind of safety do we purchase at the expense of our privacy, our integrity and, in time, our freedom?