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We Live Under a Total Surveillance State in America -- Can We Prevent It from Evolving into a Full-Blown Police State?

It's our duty to save democracy from the authoritarianism emerging from the Executive Branch.

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The following steps are needed.

The Bottom Line: No Bulk Collection Of Americans' Phone And Internet Metadata, Destroy Files That Exist

Obama on  August 8  announced a response to Snowden's revelations: "First, I will work with Congress to the following measures in pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the program that collects telephone records.  Second, we can take steps to make sure civil liberties concerns have an independent voice in appropriate cases by ensuring that the government's position is challenged by an adversary (before) the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ...  

Number three, the Department of Justice will make public the legal rationale for the government's collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act ...  Fourth, we're forming a high level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies."

These were clearly illusory reforms, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted, that would continue mass surveillance of Americans. First, the Executive would continue to only tell Congress and the Judiciary what it felt was "appropriate " for them to know—including the FISC "adversary"; second, the "legal rationales" for Executive wrongdoing are just that: rationales which no one concerned about Executive surveillance can take seriously; and thirdly four of the five "outside experts" Obama wound up appointing are all deeply implicated in  Executive wrongdoing, including former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell, and they are to report to director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a key architect of the surveillance state.

Predictably, the first meeting of this Potemkin Panel did not even discuss NSA surveillance of innocent Americans and only confined itself to private sector concerns. Open Technology Institute director Sascha Meinrath, who attended the meeting,  declared that “My fear is it's a simulacrum of meaningful reform … Its function is to bleed off pressure, without getting to the meaningful reform."

N.Y. Times editorial  accurately noted that "President Obama proposed a series of measures  on Friday  that only tinker around the edges of the nation's abusive surveillance programs. It is the existence of these programs that is the problem, not whether they are modestly transparent. As long as the N.S.A. believes it has the right to collect records of every phone call ... then none of the promises to stay within the law will mean a thing."  

Mr. Obama's "reforms" thus still envision continued Executive collection of hundreds of millions of Americans' phone and Internet records. Believers in democracy must set their own “red line” against surveillance of innocent Americans.

A line must be drawn somewhere. Once we allow the Executive to store all our emails and Internet communications for all time, why not allow them to read them if they decide it might protect somebody, somewhere, sometime? Why should a court get involved? Don't we trust them? As Edward Snowden has said, “the Internet is on principle a system that you reveal yourself to in order to fully enjoy, which differentiates it from, say, a music player. It is a TV that watches you.”

But this does not "protect" us nearly as efficiently as would a real TV or flat screen equipped with a transponder allowing them to watch us whenever they wish. Where do we draw the line? 

Mr. Obama and present congressional leaders’ typically honeyed words mean nothing absent a complete halt to gathering information on innocent Americans. Republican House Judiciary Chair Robert Goodlatte, for example, recently declared "I am committed to … our nation's intelligence collection programs includ(ing) robust oversight, additional transparency, and protections for Americans' civil liberties." But at the same time he stated that “eliminating this program altogether without careful deliberation would not reflect our duty, under article I of the constitution, to provide for the common defense," and had opposed the Conyers-Amash amendment in July that would have ended NSA surveillance of innocent Americans.  

 
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