CAPE ELIZABETH — The Paris attacks have reinvigorated the debate over how much surveillance is too much, and once again highlighted the limitations of intelligence collection in a free society.

It’s not a new debate, but it’s one worth revisiting with a fresh perspective. In some ways, the West’s ability to collect and analyze counterterrorism intelligence seems to be trending in the wrong direction. Truly effective national security may depend upon revising our policies and practices.

Part of this can be attributed to “the Snowden effect.” Once U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden publicly released thousands of secret, computerized surveillance files, the body politic demanded that electronic data collection be drastically restricted, and governments around the world have found it harder and harder to track terrorist movements.

I suggest we also suffer from something I’d call “machine worship,” where the members of our society are more comfortable connecting with devices instead of fellow humans.

Millions of us walk around with our eyes glued to smartphone screens. Visit any corner café and the patrons will be hunched over their laptops or phones, ignoring the nearby humans.

Hundreds of satellites spin around thousands of miles above us, sending back data and images of Earth we all depend on for weather, GPS navigation and a variety of other uses. At the doctor’s office, we want an MRI to find what’s ailing us. Take the car in for a checkup, and the mechanic hooks up a computer scan of the engine. At the airport, we walk through Transportation Security Administration machines that peer inside our pockets and luggage.

These machines are very useful. They can find guns, knives and other potentially dangerous objects.

But they cannot find intent. Intent can be teased out of a human only by another human.

The FBI and CIA are pretty good at the forensics required to trace microscopic clues and reconstruct secretive actions which led to an attack, but that’s after the event has already taken place.

Israeli security focuses heavily on human factors. If you travel through Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, you will have several conversations before you get to the ticket counter. The guards at the vehicle checkpoints at the airport entrance will chat you up, not simply inspect the car.

Inside the lobby, you will be questioned – sometimes at length – by men and women who look like airport workers but are actually highly trained interrogators who will ask the same questions in different ways, looking for what poker players would call “tells.” The look in your eyes. The nervous twitches. The tone of your voice. Your posture, your gait, the way your bag is packed – none of which can be detected by a machine.

By concentrating on human factors, combined with strong technology, the Israeli approach is much more likely to uncover evil intent.

(To be fair, Ben Gurion is not a huge airport, and you could park Israel’s entire El Al fleet of 40 planes at the Portland Jetport. In the U.S., the TSA guards more than 400 airports in 50 states and screens more than 2 million passengers a day.)

The FBI exploits human factors to break down organized crime cartels, inserting undercover agents and convincing criminals to switch allegiance. British intelligence used the same techniques to infiltrate and neutralize the Irish Republican Army.

The term of art is “HUMINT,” or “human intelligence.” In the counterterrorism field, we obviously and tragically don’t have enough of it. We need more human contacts inside the communities where the terrorists operate, and we need humans on our side trained to observe and listen.

Can “in your face” human exchanges be messy, annoying, intrusive or uncomfortable? Yes. Can electronic surveillance scoop up information that could be embarrassing or none of the government’s business? It can happen. So if someone in government abuses the system, throw the book at them. Fine them, fire them, put them in jail.

Thousands of people have died at the hands of terrorists. No one has ever died because their innocent email or phone call data was reviewed by a government analyst looking for bad guys.

Continuing to restrict our electronic surveillance capabilities is like taping over the few slits in the tent we could peek through. We need to reverse that trend. Both of Maine’s senators sit on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. I urge our policymakers to review U.S. counterterrorism practices with an eye toward doing everything humanly possible to meet the continuing threats to our way of life.