October 15. 2013 5:28PM

Hey, buddy: The NSA just friended you

The latest revelation from the Edward Snowden leaks is eye-popping. The National Security Agency collects 250 million email address books a year plus half a million chat and email buddy lists a day, The Washington Post reported this week. Those contact lists can include phone numbers, addresses, personal information and at least partial texts of messages. And the NSA has swept up many, perhaps tens of millions, Americans in this data collection operation.

Defenders of such collections say we are supposed to trust that the government will use the information properly at all times. That is what we were told about the phone and email records, even as it was revealed that at least a dozen NSA employees used their positions to spy on lovers, exes, etc. We were supposed to trust the IRS not to play politics with taxpayer information, too.

The First Amendment guarantees Americans the freedom of association. But how strong is that guarantee when the government can access your communications records (despite the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches) to build and maintain a database that details all of your associations?