Americans often reflect on how wonderful it is to live in this country. But we are reminded frequently that big government, by its very nature, can be the enemy of our freedoms.
One of them is the right to privacy. Revelations of domestic spying by the National Security Agency, including snooping among millions of email messages and telephone records, have made many Americans wonder how secure we are in that right.
NSA officials, President Barack Obama and some members of Congress assure us we have nothing to fear. Americans with no connections to foreign terrorists are not targets of the spying, they say.
But late last month, the NSA had to admit that is not true. Some Americans have been targets of spying by NSA operatives - for all the wrong reasons.
There have been situations in which NSA resources were used for operatives' personal reasons, it was revealed. One agency analyst was caught using the government's spying equipment to track a former spouse.
NSA official John DeLong said the agency takes such abuse ''very seriously.'' Offenders are disciplined, the NSA says.
But no one has said how and when the rogue operatives were disciplined. Were they fired, as would happen in the private sector? Or were they merely admonished and told not to do it again?
And when were they disciplined? Immediately upon discovery of their misdeeds? Or, again more likely, only after the episodes became public knowledge?
While NSA officials may not want to reveal the rogue employees' names - even though they should - they should at least provide information on the disciplinary process.
Otherwise, there is no reason to believe others in the NSA will not decide they can abuse our right to privacy without worrying about punishment.