Sen. Lindsey Graham would propose censoring Americans' "snail" mail if he thought it would help protect national security, the South Carolina Republican said Tuesday. But for now, he says he doesn't think it's necessary.
Faced with questions about the disclosure that the National Security Agency has been collecting phone and email records of citizens, Graham pointed to a World War II-era program in which the federal government censored mail. He said it was appropriate at the time and that he would support reinstating the program if it aided security efforts.
"In World War II, the mentality of the public was that our whole way of life was at risk, we're all in. We censored the mail. When you wrote a letter overseas, it got censored. When a letter was written back from the battlefield to home, they looked at what was in the letter to make sure they were not tipping off the enemy," Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill. "If I thought censoring the mail was necessary, I would suggest it, but I don't think it is."
The Guardian newspaper revealed last week details of a government surveillance program enacted in response to terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that secretly collects digital communication data from U.S. citizens. The source who provided the information to The Guardian, a Hawaii-based former government contractor named Edward Snowden, fled to Hong Kong and his whereabouts are currently unknown.
The new details about the program have sparked a debate over civil liberties and the extent of lawful government surveillance. On Tuesday, Graham suggested that Americans should be more willing to give up certain civil liberties to prevent future terrorist attacks.
"The First Amendment right to speak is sacrosanct, but it has limits," Graham added. "In World War II, our population understood that what we say in letters could be used against [us by] our enemies. It was designed to protect us and ensure that we would have First Amendment rights because under the Japanese and Nazi regime, they weren't that big into the First Amendment. We don't need to censor the mail, but we do need to find out what the enemy's up to."
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- National Security Agency