To spy or not to spy: It's a good question

A sign is pictured outside the National Security A sign is pictured outside the National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md. (June 6, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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Ellis Henican Newsday columnist Ellis Henican

Henican is a columnist for Newsday. He also is a political analyst at the Fox News Channel and ...

Let's have that conversation Edward Snowden keeps urging on us: Should our government be vacuuming up our phone records in the name of keeping us safe?

No way, says U.S. District Judge Richard Leon. Such a sweeping intrusion likely violates the U.S. Constitution.

Way, counters U.S. District Judge William Pauley. The NSA's massive data suck is "the government's counterpunch" against al-Qaida.

And there you have it: Two federal judges, Leon in Washington and Pauley in New York, delivering no clarity at all! The only one with a smile on his face is Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose gargantuan doc-drop brought the spying dragnet to light.

"For me, in terms of personal satisfaction," Snowden told The Washington Post, "the mission's already accomplished. I already won . . . I didn't want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should."

Clearly, that's a little disingenuous. Anyone who quotes George Orwell as enthusiastically as Snowden does isn't fully agnostic on the risks and benefit of government surveillance. Eddie's clearly in the anti- camp.

But however indefensible his leaking methods may be -- which is to say quite indefensible -- there's no denying he has achieved two monumental tasks: He's made people, left and right, pay attention again to government surveillance. And he's thrown the federal judiciary onto quite a collision course. See you all in front of the U.S. Supremes.

N.S.A.

1. Not So Awful

2. Nobody Say Anything

3. No Snooping Admitted

4. Nothing's Secret Anymore

5. Now Slink Away

ASKED AND UNANSWERED: Why should LI have the highest gas prices in America ($3.62 a gallon last week, says GasBuddy.com)? Did we say something to offend Louisiana, Texas or Saudi Arabia? . . . Where does appropriate zoning end and NIMBY obstructionism begin? How does that distinction inform Annette Genco's effort to open a "family day-care home" in North Massapequa amid howls of outrage from neighbors and Oyster Bay Town Hall? . . . How many more pianos does Billy Joel have sitting around? He just dispatched a spare $250,000 Bosendorfer Imperial Grand to Stony Brook University, the second piano he's given to the music department . . . Have we mentioned how much we admire Susan Tamulevich's dream of a regional supergroup to promote and protect the Long Island Sound? Is it too soon to ask the tough political question? Will the New London Maritime director be able to tame the territorial tussling among all the local groups in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York? . . . Do "smart snow plows," now on their way to Long Island, require smart plow operators? Will the brainy plows be effective against dumb snow? . . . Who approved the tower in the first place? Isn't that the lingering question now that a 190-foot radio antenna on the Manhasset-Flower Hill border, which just went up in October, is already being dismantled?

THE NEWS IN SONG: We don't do a thing by the book: Paul McCartney's "Spies Like Us": tinyurl.com/ulooked

LONG ISLANDER OF THE WEEK

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JORDAN BELFORT

We're not always proud of the Jordan Belforts among us, but there's no denying this much: Long Island is a world-class nurturer of ethics-challenged sharpies who've bent and broken the rules of American finance. Our latest tarnished star is portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street." But hardly any of his flagrant misdeeds can be traced to Broad and Wall. From his Old Brookville mansion to his Lake Success bucket shop, Belfort displayed a special heartlessness that sprouted from Long Island soil. Some day when we have time, we'll explore the twisted roots of this geography and outsized greed. For now, we note it, sigh and move on.Email ellis@henican.com

Follow on Twitter @henican

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