Our Views: For security, big data

Let us now praise the National Security Agency, and the protection it affords Americans and our allies against dangerous international terrorists.

And let us hear the words of praise from no less a liberal and Democrat than Sen. Dianne Feinstein, of California.

The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is no fan of Edward Snowden, who has spilled the nation’s secrets over the Internet.

“Enormous harm has been done,” Feinstein said. “This was a man who went into a company with the intention of doing this, of scraping everything he could get ahold of — and he has admitted that.”

We think Feinstein’s views ought to get more appreciation in light of the savage killings of Americans and others in the 9/11 atrocities, and other attacks in the United States, and terrorism attacks in cities from London to Seoul.

By virtue of her position on the Intelligence Committee, Feinstein is briefed on the ones that don’t make the papers, the plots disrupted by surveillance of cellphone calls and Internet-connected conspirators.

Her defense of collecting large numbers of telephone connections is shared by other leading Democrats, including Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va.

“This is all done by machines, and they don’t listen to conversations,” he said in an interview with the Tribune newspapers. “They just record where a phone call came from, where it went and if it hooked up with a third one. Virtually nothing else takes place.”

But, he conceded, “We can’t convince anyone of that.”

That’s a shame.

President Barack Obama has not satisfied those on the left and right who have exploited the Snowden disclosures to portray national self-defense as a shadowy conspiracy to invade Americans’ privacy.

Intelligence work is difficult and can step over legal protections against domestic spying. Judicial approval is a key factor in making sure the process is constitutional and fair. No system is perfect, and if Obama’s changes in procedures and protocols for “big data” intelligence gathering can provide additional layers of protections for American citizens, then we’re all for them.

But we think in general Feinstein takes the correct attitude that the intelligence community, even if it errs sometimes, is not the enemy here. Our enemies are the agents of international terrorism.

One of America’s great assets in an era of global terrorism is our capacity to use “big data” sweeps to make connections in communications worldwide. Let us not impair it because of domestic hysteria that arises from a mistaken belief in our immunity from conspirators’ attacks.