NSA

We're Only Spying on Ourselves

How Obama learned to stop worrying and love unaccountable surveillance

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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.

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49 responses to “We're Only Spying on Ourselves

  1. But if it were up to him, the debate never would have happened, since the programs would have remained secret.

    In Obama’s defense, he didn’t even know the NSA existed until he read about its surveillance program in the newspaper last week. But now that he does, he welcomes the debate so he can arrest anyone who tries to engage in it.

    1. and has Jay Carney confirmed the agency’s existence yet?

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  2. Fox & Friends just reported on the surge in sales of Orwell’s 1984. They explained it is a book about “government overreach”.

    1. It must mean you’re getting old when the audience needs an explanation for what the book 1984 is about.

      1. It must mean the bar has moved a lot when 1984 is simply described as being about “government overreach”. That’s sort of like describing getting shot in the head as a temporary jolt to the central nervous system.

        1. But at least you realized that you loved Big Brother.

  3. OT: I need a ruling on this. I like new technology but hate government control. Opinions?

    http://www.foxnews.com/tech/20…..-carolina/

    1. it’s creepy. Your car would be used as a mobile billboard for someone else’s messages

      1. I like the idea of never having to change your plate. You could have the same license number that follows you to each car you purchase. I hate memorizing new plate numbers. I wonder if there is a 5th amendment violation advertising your infractions on your own car against your will.

        1. i see nothing that suggests a licence number would necessarily be ambulatory with e-plates. Or am I not reading either article correctly (which is completely possible)?

          Re the fifth amendment, this isn’t self-incrimination is it? You’re not being forced to admit something, as your insurance status is already known to the state. It’s more like being forced to wear a scarlet letter. Which is more a first amendment issue, i would have thought, as it’s compelling speech

        2. I like the idea of never having to change your plate. You could have the same license number that follows you to each car you purchase.

          Can’t you transfer your plates to a new vehicle in Florida?

          1. I swear this comment wasn’t here when I typed mine! Only Fisty is supposed to beat the rest of us to commenting!

          2. You can transfer it, but every so often when you renew they send you a new plate. I don’t know why.

        3. You could have the same license number that follows you to each car you purchase.

          You can’t transfer plates from your old car to your new car?

    2. Technology, the double edged sword. When used responsibly by the benevolent it can improve our lives immensely in countless ways. In the hands of those who envision themselves rulers, the malevolent, it can be used to enslave the world.

      Advanced technology, such as the Internet, should be protected by the Second Amendment.

    3. Just a matter of time before they tie it into a “warning system”: [your tag #] – flashing [D U I], [AGRSIV], [RAGING], [AMBER], ….

      1. It could also be used for assistance. Like if you pull over it could flash if you are stopped for mechanical reasons or a medical emergency. I think the abuse out weighs the advantages though.

      2. I forgot about amber alert. If it saves one child everyone should be forced to upgrade to the new plate and pay a monthly service fee to a contractor, chosen by the state of course. For the children!

      3. How will any of this matter once driverless cars become standard?

  4. Obama is no different than any of the other of history’s worst power pigs. Accountability isn’t on the menu.

  5. the story lost me at the first line. Obama has NEVER welcomed what rational people would consider “debate” on any subject. Ever.

    1. This.

      “Debate” is yet another concept that has been transmogrified by TPTB.

    2. We are all his little Sashas and Malias.

      1. Does this mean I’ll get to wear a bikini at Spring Break in Mexico?

        1. Did anyone ever leak those photos after Dad had the media suppress them? I would do a google search but I don’t want to get in trouble.

    3. I think shitweasel said more than once that those who disagree with him can go along for the ride but have to sit in the back seat and keep their fucking mouths shut.

      As I have pointed out before, this guy has never made pretensions that he is anything but a banana republic dictator. Shreek and all those who voted for him and apologized for him, lied for him and covered for him all this time have no standing to say they didnt know.

      For what it is worth, GWB was not much better, and Mittens has come out to say that he thinks what the NSA is up to is legal and just fine with him.

      1. Reinforces my opinion that all politicians are scum, and the best we can ever hope for is that they will be so divided that they accomplish nothing.

    4. Obama was initially marketed as the second coming of Jesus, Hope, Change and bunch of other nonsense. The Obama phenomenon in a great many ways is reminiscent of another much favored messiah of the liberal Democrats; Jim Jones. Naturally, serving no useful purpose, any rational person is automatically persona non grata to the Obama regime.

  6. “….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 the president’s word for it, Sullum writes, because the formula is classified.”

    Isnt this straight from Nero’s playbook? It is the very definition of tyranny.

    1. “….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 the president’s word for it, Sullum writes, because the formula is classified.”

      You sure the US is still a democracy? It sounds like that particular experiment has failed.

  7. The irony here is that most terrorist plots are foiled when one of the members ‘leaks’ what they are doing to someone not involved. If the surveillance state is so successful, how did they miss the boat on the Boston bombing or for that matter the Newtown shootings?

    1. I think you misunderstand the purpose of the surveillance state.

      1. Oh ……. OHHHHH!!

        /Edith Bunker

      2. Silly Suthenboy, that ‘purpose’ only applies to Tricky Dick. This is different!

  8. You guys all think Obama sat down with the NSA guys and they convinced him they were doing the right thing.

    I think it’s the other way around. The NSA tells the president what he will and won’t say about them, and what will happen if he doesn’t!

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  10. Obama’s presidency is sounding a lot like the old advertising ploy: Stamp the words ‘new and improved’ on the toothpaste tube and saturate the airwaves with your ‘ads’. Works every time on the ‘gullible’ public. And by the way there a ‘new Hitler’ lurking in the shadows…

  11. 0:32? 0:32
    Haha, this article reminds me of the old Sprint commercial:
    “I can talk when and how I want, It’s my? little way of sticking it to The Man.”
    “But you are The Man.”
    “I know.”
    “So you’re sticking it to yourself!”
    Sprint — Stickin’ it to the Man – YouTube
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZG-VB5xb6KM?

  12. “And if his administration is true to form, it will treat the whistleblower who made the debate possible as a criminal.”

    Although I agree with the bulk of this article, I take issue with the characterization of Edward Snowden as a “whistleblower.” As a whistleblower, Snowden may have raised his concerns with Booz Allen corporate officials, the NSA Inspector General, the DoD Inspector General, or his own Senators or House member.

    Instead, he chose to release a Top Secret/SI document to a foreign newspaper. That’s not whistleblowing; that’s treason.

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