Wednesday, June 12, 2013

We're Only Spying on Ourselves

We're Only Spying on Ourselves:
Last week President Obama
claimed
he welcomed the public debate over recently revealed
government surveillance programs that track personal information
about millions of innocent Americans. But if it were up to him, the
debate never would have happened, since the programs would have
remained secret. And if his administration is true to form, it will

treat
the whistleblower who made the debate possible as a
criminal.
The truth is that Obama does not think a debate is necessary,
because top government officials have already considered all the
relevant points behind closed doors and arrived at the perfect
formula for sacrificing privacy in the name of security. You will
have to take his word for it, however, because the formula is
classified. This is Obama's idea of
open and transparent
government.
As a presidential candidate, Obama
rejected
"a false choice between the liberties we cherish and
the security we demand." As president, he
admonishes
 us that "you can't have 100 percent security
and also then have 100 percent privacy" because "there are some
tradeoffs involved."
Although Obama "came in with a healthy skepticism about these
programs," he said last week, "my team's assessment was that they
help us prevent terrorist attacks." Things look different once your
hands are on the reins of power. Suddenly safeguards aimed at
protecting civil liberties don't seem so important.
Don't get Obama wrong. He does not mean "to suggest that you
just say, 'Trust me. We're doing the right thing. We know who the
bad guys are.'" If that's what you thought he was saying, you may
have his surveillance program confused with his assassination
program
, under which all the deadly decisions are made within
the executive branch. In this case, Obama said, members of Congress
are "fully briefed," and "federal judges are overseeing the entire
program."
But according to Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), a
longtime ally of the president, the information shared with
Congress is sketchy. "To say that there’s congressional approval
suggests a level of information and oversight that's just not
there," he
told
The New York Times.
What about those judges? Obama was referring to members of the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, who rule in secret, do not
have much leeway to second-guess the administration's demands for
data, and
almost never do
.
Under Section
215
of the PATRIOT Act, the basis for the recently leaked

order
requiring Verizon to provide telephone records—possibly
including
location data
—for all of its customers, the government need
only "specify" that the information it wants is part of "an
investigation to protect against international terrorism." It also
has to aver that it is following guidelines approved by the
attorney general and is not targeting a U.S. citizen or legal
resident "solely upon the basis of activities protected by the
First Amendment."
Under Section 702
of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the
basis
for the National Security Agency's Internet-monitoring
PRISM program, the government "certifies" that it is not targeting
U.S. citizens, legal residents, or people located in the United
States. But the government need not identify its targets, and it
may "incidentally" gather information about Americans—including,
according to
The Washington Post
, "audio and video chats, photographs,
e-mails, documents, and connection logs."
Innocent people who are subjected to NSA snooping have no way of
challenging it, or even knowing about it. Before he took up
residence in the White House, Obama called
that sort of unaccountable surveillance power "just plain wrong."

Now
it's a "modest encroachment" that "the American people
should feel comfortable about," even if they are not privy to the
details.
Addressing Ohio State University's 2013 graduates last month,
Obama
mocked
people who "warn that tyranny is always lurking just
around the corner." As he
explained
in another speech a month earlier, "suspicion about
government" makes no sense because "the government is us." If so,
the government should be replaced, because none of us knows what
we're doing.