A.P. Scandal Raises Spectre of Big Brother
BY JOHN CASSIDY
If the three-strikes
rule were in effect,
President Obama would be heading for the dugout, bat in hand. First the alleged Benghazi cover-up, then the kerfuffle about the I.R.S. targeting conservative groups, and now the revelation that earlier this year the Justice Department secretly seized two months of phone records involving editors and reporters at the Associated Press.
Among the many questions that the phone-records story raises are these two very basic ones: What were they thinking? And who, precisely, were they?
Get the whole skinny:
Above: Attorney General Eric Holder testifies in front of the House Appropriations Committee in April. Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty.
The New York Times reported today that the FBI is preparing to propose legislation to the Obama Administration that would require Internet service providers (including software makers like Skype) to build in “backdoors” so that any communication between people can be monitored by the government. Xeni Jardin on BoingBoing has a good link roundup to articles on the proposed “wiretapping.”
Currently, we can send encrypted messages and can — with effort — communicate in private. If everything that exists on the net and hosted or available in the U.S. were required to build in tools to block encryption, this would destroy the possibility of private communication. It would put a huge burden on Internet and software providers to build those extra doors into their communication services. It would also mean that those back doors could be exploited by hackers who want to steal people’s data. It’s like requiring that nothing can be locked up in a secure way, and everything online has to be built with a weakness.
Time For A New American Revolution?
The USA is reeling today from the explosive discovery that the Obama administration has been spying on all Verizon phone customers by surveilling their phone usage on a daily basis for the last several years. This is a wholesale, routine spy surveillance program that has “Big Brother” written all over it. It was first exposed by The Guardian which has published the secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over all phone call data on an “ongoing, daily basis.”
Under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk — regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
The NSA is secretly listening to phone calls and surveilling bank accounts, emails and web surfing behavior. Giggling deniers have routinely referred to all this as a “conspiracy theory” while deriding those who warned about all this as “tin foil hat” wearing people or even promoters of “hate speech.”
As it turns out, the government really is spying on all your phone calls, emails and other records. The NSA routinely records everything you do even though such actions are blatantly illegal under federal law. Every time the NSA taps your mobile phone (which happens every day, we now know), they are committing a felony crime. But no one is stopping them. And why? Because the government itself has become a lawless criminal operation that answers to no one.
Obama admits it’s all true
Obama himself admitted the wholesale surveillance of Verizon phone users is taking place. Yes, the NSA is vacuuming up all phone records on an ongoing, daily basis, completely outside of law. But “it’s a good thing,” Obama insists.
“I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient,” Obama said in 2007, adding that “the FISA court works.”
“The changes to FISA in 2008 essentially legalized warrantless wiretapping that had been going on,” according to Molly Bishop Shadel, an expert in foreign intelligence law at the University of Virginia School of Law, she went on to say, “Congress expanded
the scope of FISA even though it knew or should have known that the NSA had done something questionable,” she said.
Obama signed a five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act in December 2012. The Senate rejected amendments that would have required intelligence agencies to report more information about their work to Congress.”
“After denouncing his predecessor’s warrantless wiretapping, Obama presided over the construction of a surveillance state more expansive than any democracy has ever known. What he hid includes documented violations of the Fourth Amendment.”
And the so-called reforms he urged to satiate the public are a cynical farce. The Obama administration hasn’t merely violated the law in its failure to prosecute what the president and attorney general acknowledge to be illegal torture. It has also suppressed a still-unreleased Senate report about that torture and done nothing to prevent the next president from restarting “enhanced interrogation.”
The Obama administration continues to wage the most costly, ruinous war in the modern era: the War on Drugs. Obama did not try and fail to end the drug war. He didn’t even try.
When the Obama administration kills innocent people in a drone strike, it does not acknowledge its mistake, apologize, or compensate the family, nor does it articulate how it will prevent such tragedies in the future. Instead, the president just keeps quiet. He suppresses the number of innocents killed, preventing anyone outside the executive branch from judging the effectiveness or morality of drone policy. He invokes the state-secrets doctrine to keep the courts from judging whether he is violating the Constitution.
And he hides even his own team’s legal reasoning.
Obama took two actions that set extremely dangerous precedents: He established a secret kill list, put the name of an American citizen on that list, and ordered his execution by drone strike without charges or trial or any due process. And he waged a war of choice in Libya without permission from Congress.
Under Obama, the national-security state is out of control. Set aside his policies, whatever you think about them. This is a president who let his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, lie in sworn testimony to Congress without consequences. His CIA director, John Brennan, presided over surveillance of Senate Intelligence Committee operations, also without consequence.
“The N.S.A.’s collecting of data looks a lot like what Facebook does, but it is fundamentally different. It inverts the crucial legal principle of probable cause: the government may not seize or inspect private property or information without evidence of a crime. The N.S.A. contends that it needs haystacks in order to find the terrorist needle. Its definition of a haystack is expanding; there are indications that, under the auspices of the “business records” provision of the Patriot Act, the intelligence community is now trying to assemble databases of financial transactions and cell-phone location information. Feinstein maintains that data collection is not surveillance. But it is no longer clear if there is a distinction.”