When the argument gets shifted to a lack of abuse and yet has a dearth of evidence of real world utility you know the game is afoot.
The Times is correct that the NSA has not disclosed, nor have any reporters uncovered, any misuses of the call-records database for political or other corrupt purposes. (There were thousands of violations a year between 2006 and 2009, but they do not appear to have been politically motivated.) But the premise of that observation appears to be that privacy only matters when the information is misused.
We could not disagree more. Privacy is a right unto itself, fundamental to human dignity. Without it, human intimacy and artistic creativity would have little room to flourish. Ever-present eyes, even if watching with the best of intentions, spoil the sanctity of the spaces they invade. For that reason, no one would defend a government program that had swept up everyone’s phone calls, emails, or home videos by pointing out that the information had never been misused. The invasion of privacy, itself, is the abuse.
That abuse—one that a federal appeals court recently called “unprecedented” in scope—is the reason that many privacy advocates have called for far-reaching reform of NSA surveillance or, short of that, simple expiration of the three Patriot Act provisions now being debated in Congress. Anything else would risk irreversibly diminishing the privacy that our nation’s founders knew to be critical to liberty.