[Rushtalk] The Resident?s privacy epiphany

Carl Spitzer cwsiv at keepandbeararms.com
Wed Feb 19 10:20:24 MST 2014


Last June, after news reports revealed that the National Security Agency
was surreptitiously collecting everyone’s phone records, President Obama
called this massive dragnet a “modest encroachment” that “the American
people should feel comfortable about.” Last Friday, he portrayed it as a
significant threat to privacy.

Which is it? Evidently the answer depends on the latest polls, which
find that the American people are not as comfortable with the NSA’s
snooping as Obama said they should be. His obvious lack of conviction
about the threat posed by mass surveillance makes it hard to believe he
is serious about addressing it.

There was a time when Obama seemed genuinely concerned about the erosion
of privacy in the name of fighting terrorism. Running for the Senate in
2004, he condemned the Patriot Act for “violating our fundamental
notions of privacy,” declaring, “We don’t like federal agents poking
around our libraries.”

As a senator, Obama continued to criticize the Patriot Act and sponsored
a bill aimed at raising the standard for using national security letters
to obtain business records. As a candidate for the Democratic
presidential nomination in 2007, he promised that in his administration
there would be “no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens” and
“no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not
suspected of a crime.”

Last week Obama said, “I maintained a healthy skepticism toward our
surveillance programs after I became president.” If so, it’s rather
puzzling that he waited five years to implement the reforms he announced

As long as the program was secret, it seems, Obama didn’t recognize the
privacy threat it posed. But now that it has been revealed, he realizes
that “without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to
yield more information about our private lives and open the door to more
intrusive bulk collection programs.”

In its report last December, the Review Group on Intelligence and
Communications Technologies, which Obama appointed in response to the
NSA controversy, noted that “the record of every telephone call an
individual makes or receives over the course of several years can reveal
an enormous amount about that individual’s private life.” And, the panel
said, the same legal theory that the NSA uses to justify mass collection
of phone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act could be used to
collect “bank records, credit card records, medical records, travel
records, Internet search records, e-mail records, educational records,
library records, and so on.”

By his account, Obama didn’t understand any of this until critics
started complaining about the NSA’s heretofore-secret database. He also
was suddenly troubled by the fact that the program “has never been
subject to vigorous public debate,” though his administration did
everything it could to prevent such a debate.

Another reason to question Obama’s sincerity: He continues to exaggerate
the utility of the database, arguing that it’s needed to stop terrorist
attacks. Yet his own privacy advisers concluded that “the information
contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of . . . meta-data
was not essential to preventing attacks.”

Obama and his review group do agree on one important point. “Given the
unique power of the state,” Obama said on Friday, “it is not enough for
leaders to say: trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect.” The
working group likewise warned that “Americans must never make the
mistake of wholly ‘trusting’ our public officials.” As long as Obama is
in the White House, there’s little risk of that.


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