Obama’s Disappointing NSA “Reform”

In light of Snowden’s revelations that the government can see almost anything a user does on the Internet, Obama held a press conference, promising to make the NSA more “transparent” so that “public opinion of the NSA” would improve. Unfortunately, his address lacked any clear overhaul of the way NSA conducts surveillance on millions of Americans, instead offering vague promises and rhetoric about transparency and reform. Here are the highlights and lowlights (mostly the latter) of his speech, with brief explanations.

  • Obama claimed that collecting telephone records is important for counter-terrorism.
    I’ve addressed this before, as have many other news organizations. There is no evidence that collection of phone records have done anything to stop terrorism. This is such an old myth, and it’s been debunked so many times, it’s actually somewhat embarrassing to see the President repeat it.
  • He claimed that no phone calls can be listened to without a warrant.
    The Guardian and Glenn Greenwald have already revealed that there are a number of loopholes that allow any low-level analyst to not only access your telephone calls, but your Internet browsing data as well.
  • He announced that in the future, government claims in the FISA court would be challenged by civil liberties advocates, that is, in “appropriate cases.”
    We’ve already seen that the FISA court has limited oversight of the program, and when they have gotten cases, they’ve ruled in the government’s favor 1,789 times. In other words, every time. It’s hard to believe having a civil liberties advocate will change that. And where it might, chances are the government won’t find it an “appropriate case.”
  • He claimed that his administration and the NSA have tried to be transparent.
    This is just an absolute joke. Obama’s administration has classified an unprecedented amount of documents. Meanwhile, the NSA’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has lied to Congress that it wasn’t collecting information on millions of Americans. Transparency hasn’t exactly been the government’s forte.
  • He announced the creation of an oversight board consisting of “outside experts” to review NSA’s intelligence collection.
    Just one small detail there. The guy who’s going to oversee that board will be our very own liar, James Clapper. That alone is enough to understand how committed Obama really is to a more transparent intelligence system.
  • He told us that the NSA will be building a website to improve transparency.
    I don’t even know exactly what to think about it. Does Obama expect us to go “ooh, shiny” and think that this passes for transparency?
  • He claimed that he had already been moving in this direction before Snowden’s leaks.
    Senator Ron Wyden, who’s opposed NSA surveillance for a long time, has put up a timeline to show how many times the Obama administration resisted calls for reform. As this Senate insider points out, Obama had 5 years to do this. It’s hard to believe that this newfound urge for “transparency” hasn’t been sparked by Snowden’s revelations.
  • He explained that counter-terrorism has been like “finding a needle in a haystack”, thereby justifying NSA surveillance.
    Obama’s drone policy breeds more terrorism. As I’ve said before, violating people’s civil liberties doesn’t stop or reduce terrorism. Stopping illegal, indiscriminate killings will.

Author: Edwin Jain

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