President Obama held a press conference on Sunday and promised to make reforms that would bring greater transparency to the government’s blatantly illegal surveillance and data mining programs. Those promises were as empty as every other promise he’s made on the subject.
First, Obama said he would work with Congress to reform the authorities authorizing NSA surveillance so that they include more safeguards and oversight to further protect from abuse.
Yeah, this might be a bit more credible if his administration had not been so blatantly distorting the provisions that are already in the law.
Third, Obama said he wants to declassify more information about the programs, including the legal rationals behind them, and create a website to learn more about U.S. surveillance activities.
See above. And remember that Obama has been fighting tooth and nail in the courts to prevent releasing those legal rationales from the Office of Legal Counsel. And that the few legal arguments we do know about are so obviously ridiculous that no one could take them seriously. For crying out loud, they’re using the business records provision of the Patriot Act to justify seizing cell phone metadata on every single person in the country. Even the Republican who wrote the bill, himself a huge fan of overzealous government surveillance, admits that this interpretation is clearly false.
Finally, Obama said he would assemble a team of outside independent experts to review communications and surveillance technologies and issue a report on findings and recommendations by the end of the year.
Ah yes, a commission. That’s exactly what we need. Appointing commissions is the classic tactic for a government that doesn’t want to actually do anything but wants to appear to be taking the issue seriously.
Obama said he would also push to give greater assurances to the American people that privacy is being protected with the secret court authorizing surveillance, including having government arguments “challenged by an adversary.”
Now that is actually a useful idea. But it would require that Congress amend the FISA law, which is highly unlikely. And what could be a valuable safeguard is easily made irrelevant depending on who gets to act as the adversary and argue against the government’s position. How about a permanent appointment from the ACLU, someone with security clearance who can argue against the government’s requests for more surveillance authority and for the 4th Amendment? Not likely to happen.