6 Reasons to Worry About NSA Surveillance

Office of Ron WydenOffice of Ron WydenYesterday Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a longtime critic of the surveillance state and the "secret law" undergirding it, gave a sobering speech at the Center for American Progress. "If we do not seize this unique moment in our constitutional history to reform our surveillance laws and practices," he said, "we will all live to regret it." Wyden warned that "the combination of increasingly advanced technology with a breakdown in the checks and balances that limit government action" threatens to give us "an always expanding, omnipresent surveillance state that—hour by hour—chips needlessly away at the liberties and freedoms our Founders established for us, without the benefit of actually making us any safer." Here are six points Wyden made that you should keep in mind during the debate over the National Security Agency's mass collection of data on law-abiding Americans:

1. It's already personal.  

If you know who someone called, when they called, where they called from, and how long they talked, you lay bare the personal lives of law-abiding Americans to the scrutiny of government bureaucrats and outside contractors. This is particularly true if you’re vacuuming up cell phone location data, essentially turning every American's cell phone into a tracking device. We are told this is not happening today, but intelligence officials have told the press that they currently have the legal authority to collect Americans' location information in bulk....Without additional protections in the law, every single one of us in this room may be and can be tracked and monitored anywhere we are at anytime.

2. The Obama administration's interpretation of Section 215, the PATRIOT Act provision authorizing collection of "business records," has implications that go far beyond telephone metadata.

There is nothing in the PATRIOT Act that limits this sweeping bulk collection to phone records. The government can use the PATRIOT Act's business records authority to collect, collate and retain all sorts of sensitive information, including medical records, financial records, or credit card purchases.They could use this authority to develop a database of gun owners or readers of books and magazines deemed subversive. This means that the government's authority to collect information on law-abiding American citizens is essentially limitless. If it is a record held by a business, membership organization, doctor, or school, or any other third party, it could be subject to bulk collection under the PATRIOT Act. Authorities this broad give the national security bureaucracy the power to scrutinize the personal lives of every law-abiding American.

3. Wait, there's more.

Wyden spoke of his frustration at being unable to clearly describe the Obama administration's PATRIOT Act abuses because the information was classified. As a result of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's recent leaks, he said, "Several provisions of secret law were no longer secret, and the American people were finally able to see some of the things I've been raising the alarm about for years." Some of the things.

4. The government routinely lies about the nature of the surveillance it conducts.

"Not only were the existence of and the legal justification for these programs kept completely secret from the American people," Wyden said, but "senior officials from across the government were making statements to the public about domestic surveillance that were clearly misleading and at times simply false." He cited several examples, ranging from the government's claim that Section 215 orders are just like grand jury subpoenas, which never authorize demands for information as broad as the NSA's phone record dragnet, to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper false denial, in response to a question from Wyden, that the NSA collects "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans."

5. We may be trading our privacy for nothing.

As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee since 2001, Wyden said, "I have not seen any indication that the bulk phone records program yielded any unique intelligence that was not also available to the government through less intrusive means."

6. When surveillance programs are secret and the government lies about them, it is hard to have a debate about their value and their compatibility with civil liberties.

The secret rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have interpreted the Patriot Act, as well as section 702 of the FISA statute, in some surprising ways, and these rulings are kept entirely secret from the public. Americans recognize that intelligence agencies will sometimes need to conduct secret operations, but they don't think those agencies should be relying on secret law...It is a fundamental principle of American democracy that laws should not be public only when it is convenient for government officials to make them public. They should be public all the time,open to review by adversarial courts, and subject to change by an accountable legislature guided by an informed public. If Americans are not able to learn how their government is interpreting and executing the law, then we have effectively eliminated the most important bulwark of our democracy....Without public laws, and public court rulings interpreting those laws, it is impossible to have informed public debate.

President Obama claims to welcome the debate about NSA surveillance while treating the man who made it possible as a criminal and doing everything in his power to prevent ordinary Americans from learning enough to decide for themselves whether they want to exchange their privacy for his promise of safety. It is therefore hilarious that the White House, in yesterday's statement urging members of Congress to vote against an amendment that would bar the NSA from spending money on the indiscriminate collection of Americans' phone records, complained that the measure was "not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • John||

    They could use this authority to develop a database of gun owners or readers of books and magazines deemed subversive. This means that the government's authority to collect information on law-abiding American citizens is essentially limitless.

    And lets not forget possessing the wrong literature is one of the signature suspicious activities.

  • Ted S.||

    Weren't the liberals freaking out that the "Patriot" Act could allow the government to go after people's library book-borrowing history? And yet now that one of their team is in the White House, they're largely remaining silent.

  • John||

    Yes they were. Somehow that stopped being an issue when the Light Worker took office.

  • Hyperion||

    Obama can't be criticized because he's the first black president. They cannot let go of that, it trumps everything else.

    The Dems were brilliant when they nominated this guy, full well knowing exactly what I just stated.

    But I think many of the Dems now are truly regretting what they have wrought, putting a totally unaccountable person in a position of that much power.

  • John||

    The problem is that in 2016 he won't be running again. How do they get blacks to turn out in record numbers? How do they get douchebag 20 somethings, who have been the biggest victims of Obama's economic policies and are soon to be the biggest victims of Obamacare to show up much less vote Democrat without the power of "being cool and a part of history". I think they will try to recreate it with Hillary and the whole "it is a woman's turn" thing. And that will work some. But Hillary is disliked by a whole lot of people and is a pretty charmless candidate.

  • From the Tundra||

    Not sure it matters what a repellent shit she is. I know the reflexive progs in my acquaintance will still tow the lion.

    I hope Hyp is right that some of these morons are starting to wake up from their stupor.

  • John||

    But the reflexive progs will always tow the lion. They are not enough to get you elected. They are not a majority. You get a majority by getting a huge black turnout and getting a lot of soft independents and low information voters to show up to drown out the Republican base and the Independents who will vote on the economy.

    Saying they can win because the progtards will two the lion is like saying the Republicans could win by nominating Huckabee because the SOCONS would all turn out. The progtards are not a majority or even close to one.

  • Zeb||

    I still don't think Hillary will get elected. Half of the electorate actively hates her. And I think that almost all of the people who will get excited about her being the first woman will the people who would vote for a ham sandwich if it was running as a Democrat.
    She has too much history and is not very likable. Obama worked so well because he had very little history or record, so he could just be the black guy saying things that people wanted to hear.
    Also, she is too old.

  • Zeb||

    I still don't think Hillary will get elected. Half of the electorate actively hates her. And I think that almost all of the people who will get excited about her being the first woman will the people who would vote for a ham sandwich if it was running as a Democrat.
    She has too much history and is not very likable. Obama worked so well because he had very little history or record, so he could just be the black guy saying things that people wanted to hear.
    Also, she is too old.

  • Hyperion||

    The progs that I haven talked to think that she is the 2nd coming of Christ, much like they thought about Obama, but many are now disillusioned with him because he couldn't pass enough economy/freedom killing crapola. Hillary is the ticket, they say, she has no fear of the evil Rethuglicans.

    Also, a lot of women I have talked to, absolutely love her. I have no idea why, she's one of the most repulsive human beings I have ever heard of.

    She'll get elected and then start a nuclear war to punish us all over all of the affairs that Willy had, probably still having.

  • John||

    Also, a lot of women I have talked to,

    And have any of these women ever voted anything but D?

  • Hyperion||

    And have any of these women ever voted anything but D?

    I didn't ask them. But I would assume, most likely not.

  • SugarFree||

    It's the GOP's race too loose. Too bad they have a history of stepping on their own dicks repeatedly.

    If they can run a candidate that social moderates can even stomach, they should win against Hilary, given her history of being a huge asshole when even barely backed into a corner.

    I mean, fuck, her shitty little Benghazi crack makes a hell of an attack ad. Imagine her giving four or five more of those during the primary.

  • Hyperion||

    Rand will take her out behind the wood shed in any debates. But he's also not going to get the nomination. Even if he wins it, flat out, the GOP will make sure someone else gets it.

  • Hyperion||

    It will be the same thing over again with Hitlary. Women will turn out in mass to vote for her, because she's a woman. Most Republicans and some independents will stay home, again, because the GOP will nominate another McCain/Romney clone, like Christie.

    When Hildebeast is POTUS, it will be more of the same, we can't criticize anything she does, no matter how bad, or we are sexist because we are bashing the first woman POTUS.

    This is exactly what the Dems are planning, and it will work, sadly.

    Hildebeast will make Obama look like one of the founding fathers.

  • John||

    A certain breed of woman loves the Hildebeast. But a lot of others hate her. I wouldn't underestimate her. But she is not Obama. She is not the blank slate he was and the country doesn't feel the need to elect a woman like they did a black guy. And she will be running at the end of a disastrous Democratic administration instead of the end of a Republican one.

    Remember, McCain was ahead right up until the financial collapse and his idiotic suspension of his campaign to get TARP through. Hillary is no Obama. She is not going to drive black turnout like Obama did. And the women who would vote for her because she is a woman, would almost certainly have voted D anyway.

    And lastly, I don't know who the nominee will be, but it will not be Christie. Christie is dead thanks to guns and the blowjob he gave to Obama after Sandy. He will never win the GOP nomination.

    Whatever happens with the GOP nomination, it won't be like 2012. Romney won primarily because every one of his opponents self destructed. The party spent months trying to find any viable candidate to defeat Romney. And every time they thought they had one, the guy imploded. Had any of them, Cain, Gingrich, Standford, Perry, or Daniels if he had run had been anything but a disaster, Romney would not have won. Romney won by default. He didn't win because the GOP was just dying to run this establishment candidate.

  • sarcasmic||

    McCain was doing well until the media went after Palin.

    In my opinion the 2008 election showed that Americans are more sexist than they are racist.

  • The Great Procrastinator||

    Voting against McCain because of Palin makes me sentient, not sexist.

  • Hyperion||

    Romney, admittedly, was probably the only viable choice. I mean, look who his opponents were. Santorum? The guy is fucking insane, he would have lost in a landslide. Ron Paul was the best man, but his honesty is just too much for most people.

    But this time, there is no excuses, Rand will be running and he is clearly the most viable candidate. Who else would there be? Christie, the obese RINO, Jeb Bush the another Boosh, Rubio the RINO, Santorum again, Paul Ryan, who flubbed up a debate against the idiot Biden.

    There is no viable candidate, outside of Rand, and the cronies in control of the GOP will NEVER let the son of Ron Paul get the nomination.

    So, it's Christie or Jeb Bush.

  • sarcasmic||

    So, it's Christie or Jeb Bush.

    What about that brown guy from Louisiana? Isn't it the Republicans' turn to show they're not racist?

  • Hyperion||

    He's not brown enough.

  • John||

    Jindal might have a shot. Rubio is finished thanks to immigration. Cruz is a real contender. Right now I would say it is Cruz's to take if he wants it, and I don't know that he does. Cruz and Rand Paul are by far the two strongest candidates. I could also see Daniels jumping in and being the establishment guy if Jeb Bush doesn't run, which I don't think he ever will. Jeb Bush doesn't want to be President.

  • John||

    Christie cannot win. You can't win the GOP nomination with a bad record on guns. Guilliani was five times the politician that Christie is and beloved by a whole lot of people in the GOP, as opposed to Fatso who is hated. And Guilliani's candidacy went nowhere because of his record on guns.

    I honestly don't see how anyone can think Christie has a chance. He won't even run. He has so little chance even Fatso realizes it. Hell, I wouldn't be shocked if Fatso loses his bid for re-election in 2014. New Jersey is a deep blue state and Republicans hate him.

  • sarcasmic||

    All I know for sure is that whomever I vote for will lose.

  • crashland||

    So... vote for Hillary and save us!

  • Hyperion||

    I honestly don't see how anyone can think Christie has a chance

    Well, then he's the perfect GOP candidate.

    Mitch Daniels is a strange guy. He has no personality at all and would be a disaster as a POTUS candidate.

    Rand Paul is the guy, if the GOP wants to have a chance. Cruz is coming off way too evangelistic. He's this time arounds Santorum, but with some constitutional rhetoric to go with it. Not that he means any of it.

  • John||

    Well, then he's the perfect GOP candidate.

    No. I mean in the GOP primaries not the general. After all that has happened with gun control, any candidate is going to have to be spotless on gun control to have any chance. Being anti-gun in the GOP is like being pro life in the Democratic party. It sets your ceiling at regional guy that they might allow to attend the convention.

    Rand Paul is the guy, if the GOP wants to have a chance. Cruz is coming off way too evangelistic.

    So has Paul. Paul has said exactly the same sorts of things that Cruz has, People around here are just ignoring it because they like Paul. And Cruz is nothing like Santorum. Santorum didn't lose because of his religious views. He is unpopular in the GOP because he is a big government RINO at heart. Cruz in contrast is anything but.

    Paul's problem is that he has to keep from being too associated with his dad and he has to be credible on national defense. Cruz won't have those problems. Right now Cruz is the stronger candidate but it is close.

  • Gary T||

    I think his current enthusiastic stance on the NSA domestic invasion of privacy may be his undoing.

    I was actually liking the guy until I heard him speak on this yesterday.

  • Metazoan||

    President Obama claims to welcome the debate

    Because any legitimate "national conversation" should come out agreeing with him. To him, debate = high dose propaganda to eliminate opposition.

  • Spartacus||

    President Obama claims to welcome the debate about NSA surveillance while treating the man who made it possible as a criminal and doing everything in his power to prevent ordinary Americans from learning enough to decide for themselves whether they want to trade their privacy for a promise of security.

    As usual, Obama "welcomes a debate" as long as everyone adopts his own definitions and prior assumptions, which must not be questioned in any way. To do so is to engage in "partisan obstruction" or "denial of reality" or some such thing.

    I especially object to the presentation of security and liberty as a fixed sum game, where one can only be increased if the other is decreased. Pure bullshit.

  • Geoff Nathan||

    Bruce Schneier has a nice shtick where he argues that liberty and openness are security devices. We're safer when we know what our government is doing.

  • Hyperion||

    But, but... if we know what the government is doing, then the terrorists know what the government is doing, and the terrorists win!

  • Ted S.||

    The terrorists know what the government is doing, because the government are the terrorists.

  • Hyperion||

    ^THIS^

    +1 spy drone.

  • John||

    6. When surveillance programs are secret and the government lies about them, it is hard to have a debate about their value and their compatibility with civil liberties.

    That is the big one. If the program is secret, there is no way to have any assurance that it won't be abused.

  • sarcasmic||

    If the program is secret, there is no way to have any assurance that it won't you can pretty much assume that it will be abused.

    ftfy

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    5. We may be trading our privacy for nothing.

    When the Russians tell three different agencies "you have two Chechen Terrorists in Cambridge Mass" by name and they still miss them???

    Yeah, you got that right, we are being screwed.

    NSA=Neofacists Spying on Americans.

  • John||

    And they were reading Hussain's email and still didn't so much as try to kick him out of the Army or do some follow up investigation. The guy practically joined the "Future Jihadist of America Club". But the NSA is totally going to uncover previously unknown terrorists with this program.

  • Zeb||

    To be fair, I don't think I'd trust the Russians either. The Russians say a lot of things.

  • Troglodyte Rex||

    They knew, they did nothing, now they can tell us they need to ramp up the spying to prevent this in the future.

  • Hyperion||

    So there is at least one Democrat who appears to be good on civil liberties.

    What Wyden may be missing is that you can't have really huge behemoth government in any form, or they are going to do these type of things, and worse. Big government is just corrupt in direct proportion to its size.

  • Drake||

    He's a moral idiot.

  • entropy||

    Wyden warned that "the combination of increasingly advanced technology with a breakdown in the checks and balances that limit government action" threatens to give us "an always expanding, omnipresent surveillance state that—hour by hour—chips needlessly away at the liberties and freedoms our Founders established for us, without the benefit of actually making us any safer."

    Holy shit, a democrat said that?!?

    I'd vote for him.

  • Hyperion||

    Better take a look at his stance on economic policy before you pull that lever.

    I haven't, but I have this suspicion, that I wouldn't like it.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Sure, if he's running against Amash it's a bad deal. If he's running against Lindsey Graham...

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    6. When surveillance programs are secret and the government lies about them, it is hard to have a debate about their value and their compatibility with civil liberties.

    Given the abuse political enemies of this regime have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of the IRS, an agency with considerably more 'transparency' than the NSA, one can only imagine the dirty tricks that fly under the radar of one so secret.

    Perhaps Industries, financial institutions and public personalities that speak privately against polices?
    Say you wanted a judge or politician to rule a particular way, well if you had some good dirt on them, I'm sure they'll see things Barry's way after.

    "Everyones got something to hide except me and my monkey" -John Lennon

  • GPZsug||

    liberties and freedoms our Founders established for us

    The Founders did not establish our liberties and freedoms. They recognized them. Wyden is, at the moment, an enemy of my enemy. But that doesn't mean he has the slightest idea what freedom is.

  • ||

    6. When surveillance programs are secret and the government lies about them, it is hard to have a debate about their value and their compatibility with civil liberties.

    No, it is impossible. I am astounded that most people seem to be operating under the assumption that this is a legitimate government. The instant they formed a secret court equal to the supreme court and started making secret laws with secret interpretations of those law, and secret rulings they were operating outside of the constitution. Operating outside of the constitution = operating illegally. This is not rule of law or representative government. It is a criminal conspiracy.

    Just as you would expect such a such a banana republic dictatorship to operate, this one is. The dear leader has insanely powerful bureaucracies going after his political enemies, massive surveillance apparatus spying on the general population, extrajudicial killing of citizens, government bureaucrats controlling industry, and a chief executive ruling by fiat over and above the legislature. The central power constantly trying to divide people along class, race, gender and identity lines. Buying off hordes of people with free baubles.

    The only quality different from a third world dictatorship is our wealth, and under these conditions that wont last long.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Yesterday Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a longtime critic of the surveillance state and the "secret law" undergirding it, gave a sobering speech at the Center for American Progress.

    I assume they booed him off the stage.

  • Hyperion||

    They are actually supportive of him, and even Amash, over at HuffPo, much to my surprise.

    But they will be back to hating both of them by tomorrow. Just like the time, when I used to post over there, the day that Obama signed NDAA. They were all of the sudden all up in arms over this NDAA outrage, and I was getting likes and friended by everyone (a practice that I find beyond childish and annoying).

    The next day they had forgotten all of that and were back to hating me and calling me an extremist bagger, over the same issue.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    It's the GOP's race too loose. Too bad they have a history of stepping on their own dicks repeatedly.

    Channeling John, today?

    Speaking of "theirs to lose" the upcoming Senate race in Montana should be a gimme for the Republicans, now that Schweitzer says he won't run.

    I have faith in them, though; I think they can and will hand it to the Prairie Populists on a silver platter.

  • Hyperion||

    The Dems for some odd reason, that I cannot figure out, have the GOP by their teeny tiny ballz, over the fact that they will be called extremists, if they dare try anything that is not way left of center. Now, pretty much everything in the constitution is dusty old extremism.

    All the Dems have to say, is, it's for the children! And the GOP caves. If not for the wacko birds, we would now have a couple more monster pieces of legislation crushing liberty in the form of 2nd amendment castration and immigration deformity.

  • John||

    Most of the GOP lives in terror of being painted as a nut. They don't want to be out of the mainstream. They look at what happened to Palin as a warning.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    were back to hating me and calling me an extremist bagger, over the same issue.

    Nothing pisses those people off like consistency of principle.

  • Hyperion||

    I've honestly tried to debate with these people on several political blogs, to try to explain to them the Libertarian viewpoints, and why they are right. It simply cannot be done, you cannot reason with them. If you aren't in favor of everything the Dems do, you're an extremist bagger controlled by the Kochtopus. They don't like Republicans, but when they find out that you are Libertarian, their true hate comes out. Even if you agree with them on something, they will still disagree with you, that they agree with you, because you agree for the wrong reasons, it's insane.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement