Presidential candidate Obama said in 2007:
[The Bush] administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand.
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 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. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists.
He frequently repeated
his “no warrantless wiretapping” pledge thereafter.
In light of the revelation that the Obama administration has been spying on our phone calls Americans (the government has tapped every call in America
, and is spying on everything we do online
), media on both the left and the right are now admitting that Obama and Bush are indistinguishable. This includes, by way of example, Politico
, National Journal
, and Huffington Post
Another widespread comparison is East Germany. For example, the Washington Post notes
“Here we are, under the Obama administration, doing it sort of like the Bush administration on steroids,” [NSA expert James Bamford] said in an interview with the Associated Press. “This order here is about as broad as it can possibly get, when it comes to focusing on personal communications. There’s no warrant, there’s no suspicion, there’s no probable cause … it sounds like something from East Germany
The Daily Beast writes
Fifteen years ago, all of us would have laughed at the notion that the government would assert the right to know about every phone call made by ordinary American citizens suspected of no crime—that’s something that East Germany would do
, not the American government. How have we gotten so comfortable with the panopticon state in little more than a decade?
And the Atlantic notes
TSA’s surveillance of our communications is most likely much, much bigger than [metadata]. Technology has made it possible for the American government to spy on citizens to an extent East Germany could only dream of
(The Atlantic is correct
The New York Times Editorial Board says that Obama has lost all credibility
(and slams defenders of the Big Brother spying program):
The Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.
Those reassurances have never been persuasive — whether on secret warrants to scoop up a news agency’s phone records or secret orders to kill an American suspected of terrorism
— especially coming from a president who once promised transparency and accountability. The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it
. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the 9/11 attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.
A senior administration official quoted in The Times offered the lame observation
that the information does not include the name of any caller, as though there would be the slightest difficulty in matching numbers to names.
Essentially, the administration is saying that without any individual suspicion of wrongdoing, the government is allowed to know who Americans are calling every time they make a phone call, for how long they talk and from where.
This sort of tracking can reveal a lot of personal and intimate information about an individual. To casually permit this surveillance — with the American public having no idea that the executive branch is now exercising this power — fundamentally shifts power between the individual and the state, and repudiates constitutional principles governing search, seizure and privacy
The defense of this practice
offered by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to be preventing this sort of overreaching, was absurd
. She said today that the authorities need this information in case someone might become a terrorist in the future. Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the vice chairman of the committee, said the surveillance has “proved meritorious, because we have gathered significant information on bad guys and only on bad guys over the years.”
But what assurance do we have of that, especially since Ms. Feinstein went on to say that she actually did not know how the data being collected was used?
The senior administration official quoted in The Times said the executive branch internally reviews surveillance programs to ensure that they “comply with the Constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.”
That’s no longer good enough
. Mr. Obama clearly had no intention of revealing this eavesdropping, just as he would not have acknowledged the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, had it not been reported in the press. Even then, it took him more than a year and a half to acknowledge the killing, and he is still keeping secret the protocol by which he makes such decisions.
Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, who introduced the Patriot Act in 2001, said that the National Security Agency overstepped its bounds by obtaining a secret order to collect phone log records from millions of Americans.
“As the author of the Patriot Act, I am extremely troubled by the F.B.I.’s interpretation of this legislation,” he said in a statement
. “While I believe the Patriot Act appropriately balanced national security concerns and civil rights, I have always worried about potential abuses.” He added: “Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.” [Sensenbrenner also asked
: "How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation?"]
Stunning use of the act shows, once again, why it needs to be sharply curtailed if not repealed.
Howard Fineman slams Obama and invokes the Founding Fathers
The Verizon story is yet more evidence that America is reaching a crisis point in the more than decade-long trend of expanding federal power to reach into the private lives of Americans. At the same time, the government inevitably is becoming more opaque, and more focused on leaks, in the name of protecting the investigations that it instigates in the name of national security.
The time has come for a deep, serious national debate on the balance between freedom and security.
Osama bin Laden’s attack on Sept. 11, 2001, set off a new chapter in the age-old argument between liberty and security, a debate in which Ben Franklin warned that those who would sacrifice the former for the latter will end up with neither