The Day of New London (Conn.) writes:

Monday's decision by a federal judge concerning the National Security Agency's out-of-control electronic surveillance program once again demonstrates the effectiveness of the system of checks and balances constructed by the framers of the U.S. Constitution to protect the rights outlined in that document.

While the executive branch continues to rationalize the surveillance of the phone records of virtually every citizen and Congress chooses not to intervene, Judge Richard J. Leon of the Federal District Court for District of Columbia finally pointed out the obvious - the program is an outrageous encroachment on liberty.

The Fourth Amendment secures the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches," permitting such searches only with the issuing of a warrant based on "probable cause" of criminal behavior.

The NSA's "metadata" program sifts through all phone and other electronic communications - numbers dialed and dates - looking for patterns and connections that might suggest a terrorist conspiracy. Everyone is a suspect.

"I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary' invasion' of that 'degree of privacy' that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment," Judge Leon wrote.

His is not a final ruling. Instead, the judge approved an injunction sought by several plaintiffs, led by conservative legal activist Larry Klayman, to stop the surveillance of their communications. Recognizing that the constitutional issues raised by this and other legal challenges are headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Leon stayed his decision pending the government's appeal.

Justice Department lawyers tried to argue that the 1979 Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Maryland, which concluded law enforcement could use phone company records as evidence without violating caller privacy rights, allows the NSA program. Judge Leon rejected that contention, noting the broad scope of the NSA surveillance and advances in technology make it "a far cry" from the 1979 robbery case.

Indeed, in a 2012 decision finding it unconstitutional for police to plant GPS tracking devices to monitor an individual's movements, five Supreme Court justices questioned the validity of the 1979 decision, noting technological changes.

To protect constitutional rights, the Supreme Court should use this and other related decisions to rein in the abusive surveillance program.

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Charities challenged

Foster's Daily Democrat of Dover (N.H.), Dec. 17, 2013

Over the weekend came news those red kettles, manned by Salvation Army personnel, are not filling up as they have in past years.

Across the country, kettle donations are reportedly down by as much as 50 percent.

As a result, Salvation Army bell ringers have designated Dec. 21 as Keep the Kettle Boiling Day as part of an effort to make up for a desperate shortfall in donations this holiday season.

But the Salvation Army is not the only group struggling to meet the needs of those in need.

On Monday we reported on efforts by the Somersworth High School student council, which is holding its third annual "free clothes fair." It will be held at the school on Dec. 20, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. But with items such as infant clothing, shoes, jackets and gloves lacking, organizers say they are in desperate need of donations (which can be dropped off at the school) before Friday's event.

The need for donations should come as no surprise. Our pages regularly carry a donations list of area organizations looking for help.

Monday's list included everything from the Homemakers Health Services looking for items to fill holiday baskets to a Safe Place asking for gift card donations which will help clients buy gas, groceries and other needed items.

We make no argument the groups highlighted here or on our donations list are the only ones struggling during this gift-giving season. There are many others.

The 2013 Nonprofit Finance Fund's annual survey of nearly 6,000 organizations paints a gloomy picture for nonprofits even amid signs of economic recovery, according to Philanthropy.com. Among the key findings:

For the first time in the survey's five years, more than half of the charities said they were unable to meet demands for assistance last year, and even more groups expect to struggle to do so this year.

One in four groups is running so close to the bone it had less than 30 days' cash in hand.

Thirty-nine percent of the charities said their financial situation is so challenging they plan to change how they raise and spend money.

"The challenge that many organizations face is that this is the fifth year of increased demands," said Antony Bugg-Levine, chief executive of Nonprofit Finance Fund.

And with Thanksgiving falling late on this year's calendar, the shortened gift-giving season has exacerbated problems from many charities.

But there is still time. With more much Christmas shopping still be done (according to our online shopping poll at www.fosters.com), we urge you to carve out a portion of your budget for a charity or two.

As our donations' list points out, there are many local charities which would benefit from your generosity.

And of course, there is the Salvation Army and those red kettle bell ringers who remind us the Christmas season is not so much about getting as it is about giving -- and feel good about it.