Having said that, I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs in the future. They’re also right to point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate.
For all these reasons, I believe we need a new approach. I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.
Because of the challenges involved, I’ve ordered that the transition away from the existing program will proceed in two steps.
Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization, instead of the current three, and I have directed the attorney general to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding or in the case of a true emergency.
Next, step two: I have instructed the intelligence community and the attorney general to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address, without the government holding this metadata itself. They will report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28th. And during this period, I will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views and then seek congressional authorization for the new program, as needed.
So basically what he has proposed is twofold. First, he suggests that the metadata still be seized, but that the NSA will be authorized to inspect and scrutinize slightly less of it (perhaps hundreds of thousands of calls less, or more). Second he suggests that the data be stored at a private contractor (by the sound of it) rather than the government's current 15-year deep storage facilities.
While I'm normally open to the idea of public-private partnerships, in this case I think the solution is every bit as bad as the original state of affairs. How is it less dangerous -- financially, reputation-wise, and politically to hand the data of every single American to a private corporations such as Oracle Corp. (ORCL), Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN), AT&T Inc. (T), or Verizon Inc. (VZ).
Should we trust corporations like Oracle with Americans' data? [Image Source: AP]
This "solution" could quite possibly lead to even greater abuses according corporate espionage, political suppression or worse.
VII. Trust Me, C'mon Trust Me (Part II)
The President adds one more "fix", commenting:
[My new] directive makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks.
I’ve also made it clear that the United States does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantage people on the basis of their ethnicity or race or gender or sexual orientation or religious beliefs. We do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. commercial sectors.
And in terms of our bulk collection of signals intelligence, U.S. intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements: counterintelligence; counterterrorism; counterproliferation; cybersecurity; force protection for our troops and our allies; and combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion.
In this directive, I have taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas. I’ve directed the DNI, in consultation with the attorney general, to develop these safeguards, which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information while also restricting the use of this information. The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures.
I give the president credit for hitting on some of the most serious potential abuses -- corporate espionage, political suppression, etc. The optimist in me wants to believe what the President is saying, that the blanket authority, he's asking Americans to entrust him with will not be abused. But history -- even the President's own track record -- suggests otherwise.
I'm not suggesting that it has been used to engage in widespread political suppression; not yet. But vague executive orders and heartfelt promises are not going to protect Americans in the face of mass warrants.
He adds a couple final changes, stating:
Finally, to make sure that we follow through on all these reforms, I’m making some important changes to how our government is organized. The State Department will designate a senior officer to coordinate our diplomacy on issues related to technology and signals intelligence. We will appoint a senior official at the White House to implement the new privacy safeguards that I’ve announced today. I will devote the resources to centralize and improve the process we use to handle foreign requests for legal assistance, keeping our high standards for privacy while helping foreign partners fight crime and terrorism.
I’ve also asked my counselor, John Podesta, to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy. And this group will consist of government officials who, along with the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, will reach out to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders and look how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sector.
All of these proposals sound respectable, but bely the true problem -- mass warrants. So long as the general warrants stand, so long as everyday Americans are treated like criminals, freedom is being trampled upon.
VIII. A Scrap of Validity in a Sea of Vague Rhetoric
I do agree with one part of his speech unquestioningly -- its closing. He concludes:
No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs or Russia to take privacy concerns of citizens in other places into account.
But let’s remember, we are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront of defending personal privacy and human dignity. As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment, not government control. Having faced down the dangers of totalitarianism and fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person has the right to think and write and form relationships freely, because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress.
Those values make us who we are. And because of the strength of our own democracy, we should not shy away from high expectations. For more than two centuries, our Constitution has weathered every type of change because we’ve been willing to defend it and because we’ve been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense. Today is no different. I believe we can meet high expectations. Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for.
Thank you. God bless you. May God bless the United States of America.
Nearly every U.S.-based critic of the NSA surveillance (myself included) feels the same, I would wager. We do not criticize general warrants because we dislike our country, but because we love it.
If you love the Constitution, you must defend it. [Image Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech LLC]
When you love something you want to protect it.
IX. The Problem is Actions, Not Words
Some may dismiss my commentary as biased or "Obama hating", refusing to consider the factual points I raise with regard to the President's speech. But to the President's supporters I would like to point out that I campaigned for President Obama in 2007.
In retrospect that was a grave mistake.
In watching the money he took, the things he did, his furtherance of President Bush's worst efforts like general warrants, I watch the hope -- and my belief in the President as an honest leader -- die.
I still believe in the spirit of much of Obama said in 2007. But I've come to realize that the problem was that what he said was mostly very vague appeals to populism, meritocracy, and to those on both parties who hoped to rebuke a large, abusive centralized federal government.
Once in office, hope was replaced with status quo, or worse. Support for a new era of meritocracy was replaced with a strengthening of the old era of plutocracy. Was it naive to believe that a candidate awash in unprecedented amounts of special interest dollars would truly support freedom and free market? I'd say it probably it was.
We've heard this speech before, Mr. President. [Image Source: The Washington Post]
What troubles me about the President's speech, is that I've heard him say these same things before. And the results suggest a naive belief in good results is not warranted. The problem is not the President's words. A lot of what he said is great.
The problem is that when you dig into his words versus his actions you see the distance between rhetoric and reality. You see that the President is using vague reassurances and promises, couple at times with outright falsehoods to promote exactly the kinds of offensive threats to liberty he claims to oppose.
XI. "A" for Effort, "C" for Content
Senator Rand Paul (R-Kent.) summarized the President's speech, commenting:
What I think I heard was that if you like your privacy, you can keep it. But in the meantime, we're going to keep collecting your phone records, your e-mails, your text messages, and likely your credit card information.
He goes on to question whether one warrant can apply to "millions of peoples' records", saying he's determined to push the issue to the Supreme Court. He gives the President "an "A" for effort, "C" for content."
I feel that is fairly accurate.
Like Sen. Paul, I still feel the President seems like a likeable, nice guy. And I would like to believe on some of these issues he's perhaps misled by his own advisors. But at the end of the day if the policies are bad, the policies are bad. He's the boss and he takes the blame.
Would I have a beer with President Obama, when he leaves office and enters civilian life? Sure. But the days when we have such freedoms may be coming to a close if we do not check these kinds of unchecked powers while we can.
When it comes general warrants, vague, slippery words are cold treason to the Constitution. General warrants are absolutely anti-constitutional. Our ancestors fought to free themselves of such warrants, and of an oppressive, hyper-powerful central ruling regime.
Today we have the tools to throw off such shackles peacefully -- if we use them before its too late.
The Founding Fathers paid a price in blood to free America of "general searches" (i.e. mass warrants). And they warned their ancestors that if they allowed such practices to reappear in the name of national security they would have neither freedom nor safety. [Image Source: U.S. Treasury]
When you've been caught lying, it's a little too late to say, "Hey, trust me, I'll make this right."
As President Bush said during a 2002 speech in Nashville, Tennessee:
There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.
The President's vague framework must be revised if he hopes to represents true, binding change. The President must take responsibility that abuses -- no matter how "small" he thinks they are -- did occur.
To prevent that form occurring again there is really only one answer -- unconstitutional general warrants must end.
Source: The Washington Post