Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Obama’s Empty NSA Reforms

Americans continue to live in a nation where domestic spying on civilians and breaches of privacy rival those of communist China and Putin's Russia and despite Barack Obama's talk of reform, things on this front are not about to be reigned in.  It is disturbing that the only safe approach in America is to assume that everything one does on the Internet or via electronic communications is being intercepted and read by government agents.  We have no true privacy.  The Nazi regime would be envious of the level of surveillance that watches Americans' every move.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at Obama's meaningless promises of reform. Here are excerpts:

President Obama’s message about the government’s massive electronic surveillance programs came through loud and clear: Get over it.

The president used more soothing words in his pre-vacation news conference Friday, but that was the gist. With perhaps the application of a fig leaf here and a sheen of legalistic mumbo jumbo there, the snooping will continue.  Unless, of course, we demand that it end.

The modest reforms Obama proposed do not begin to address the fundamental question of whether we want the National Security Agency to log all of our phone calls and read at least some of our e-mails, relying on secret judicial orders from a secret court for permission. The president indicated he is willing to discuss how all this is done — but not whether.

Snowden’s disclosures do look increasingly like whistle-blowing, by the way, rather than espionage or treason. If administration officials really welcome the discussion we are now having, shouldn’t they thank Snowden rather than label him an enemy of the state? 

As part of its public relations campaign, the administration released a 22-page white paper outlining its legal rationale for collecting and keeping a detailed log of all our domestic phone calls. The document depends on novel definitions of words whose meaning, I always thought, was fairly clear.

Only an infinitesimal fraction of the billions of phone call records being stored in the NSA’s computers will actually have anything to do with terrorism or espionage. The government argues that it must have the entire haystack to find these few needles. Therefore, every piece of hay — your lunchtime call to your spouse, say, or your evening chat with an old friend — is relevant to an investigation.

Which investigation might that be? On this question, the administration argues there is no need to be specific. “An investigation” is taken to mean, roughly, any investigation designed to prevent terrorist attacks.

[T]he Fourth Amendment, which prohibits searches without suspicion. Without informing us, the judges of the secret intelligence court have construed the amendment to permit the collection of vast, unprecedented amounts of private information about individuals who are not, the government admits, under any suspicion.

Proceedings before the court are not adversarial; only the government side is presented. Obama acknowledged that this “may tilt it too far in favor of security, may not pay enough attention to liberty.”

I’ll believe Congress is serious when it clarifies the Patriot Act and other laws to spell out that the Constitution still applies. The NSA’s capability to obliterate privacy is rampaging ahead. The law desperately needs to catch up.

I continue to find this all pervasive spying on citizens frightening.  It has all the earmarks of Nazi Germany and other totalitarian regimes.  There is currently no one who reins in out of control spying. And there are no limits on the government's ability to label one a suspect or subversive.

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