Friday, August 09, 2013

Obama the hypocrite, Snowden the patriot

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"Snowden made me do it."

There was yet another Guardian report today (this one not authored by Glenn Greenwald) of yet another troubling revelation, via Edward Snowden, about the extent of the U.S. surveillance state:

The National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases under a legal authority enabling it to search for US citizens' email and phone calls without a warrant, according to a top-secret document passed to the Guardian by Edward Snowden.

The previously undisclosed rule change allows NSA operatives to hunt for individual Americans' communications using their name or other identifying information. Senator Ron Wyden told the Guardian that the law provides the NSA with a loophole potentially allowing "warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans".

The authority, approved in 2011, appears to contrast with repeated assurances from Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials to both Congress and the American public that the privacy of US citizens is protected from the NSA's dragnet surveillance programs.

Yes, that's right: warrantless surveillance of American citizens. (And you still see no problem with this, surveillance state apologists?)

Apparently all this has gotten to be too much even for noted surveillance state enthusiast Barack Obama:

President Obama said Friday he would pursue reforms to open the legal proceedings surrounding government surveillance programs to greater scrutiny, the administration's most concerted response yet to a series of disclosures about secret monitoring efforts.

At his first full news conference in more than three months, Obama said he intends to work with Congress on proposals that would add an adversarial voice -- such as a lawyer assigned to advocate privacy rights -- to the secret proceedings before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In addition, Obama said he intends to work on ways to tighten one provision of the Patriot Act -- known as Section 215 -- that has permitted the government to obtain the phone records of millions of Americans. He announced the creation of a panel of outsiders -- former intelligence officials, civil liberties and privacy advocates, and others -- to assess the programs and suggest changes by the end of the year.

"It's not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs," Obama said in the White House East Room. "The American people need to have confidence in them as well."

All of this is quite promising, if not nearly enough (really, a privacy lawyer, that's it?), but it's clear that the president has been forced into doing this -- by media reports, public outcry, and falling approval ratings -- and for that reason it's reasonable to be skeptical of his sincerity, and of his commitment to ensuring there is anything like serious oversight and accountability. 

And it's still rather concerning that while announcing this he still went after Snowden:

No, I don't think Mr. Snowden was a patriot... My preference, and I think the American people's preference, would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws.

Well, first, how can there be a "lawful, orderly examination of these laws" when the president's own administration is persecuting whistleblowers, as well as their media contacts, like they were vicious enemies of the state?

There can't be, which is why Snowden had to do it the way he did it.

And, second, would we even be having this discussion, and would the president be proposing even these insufficient safeguards, were it not for Snowden?

No, and for that reason alone Snowden is a true patriot.

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