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While U.S. Government Secretly Tapped Phones and Internet, Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was Stymied

This morning, you may feel like wearing a tin-foil hat to protect yourself, and such an act wouldn’t be entirely kooky. Yesterday, leaks to newspapers revealed that the United States government has not only been seizing the records of billions of phone calls taking place inside and outside the United States, but also has been tapping directly in to the internet servers of Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, Skype and AOL, all (according to the Washington Post) without the knowledge or permission of the internet giants. This leaked classified image from the National Security Agency shows the start dates for the massive data surveillance.

NSA Special Source Operations Slide Describes PRISM collection directly from big-name internet servers

According to this schedule, government surveillance of Microsoft internet servers began under the presidency of George W. Bush, but the majority of the surveillance programs began and have continued under the watch of President Barack Obama (who promised as a candidate that he would reform, not expand, the government’s warrantless surveillance program).

Something else started under George W. Bush, something that would have been able to bring this kind of activity to our attention long ago. That something is the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Under a federal law passed in the 110th Congress, the PCLOB is empowered to obtain confidential documents and testimony under independent subpoena power in order to investigate abuses of our constitutionally-protected civil liberties by the United States government, and to report on such abuses twice a year to both Congress and the public. The PCLOB could have ferreted out and reported these assaults against Americans’ civil liberty — if it had existed.

Although the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board existed in hypothetical terms, it was not until 2012 that President Barack Obama got around to actually nominating members of the board. Then the Senate Judiciary Committee sat on the nominations. Then, when four of five members of the PCLOB were confirmed, the position of the Chairman was left unfilled, guaranteeing that the board could neither hire staff nor make any decisions.

Taken together, all these failures to act guaranteed that from the moment President Barack Obama took office until … when? … the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was either nonexistent or stymied, with years of evidence uncollected, with 9 biannual reports to the public unwritten and unreleased, with massive warrantless surveillance enterprises against the American people unexposed.

In a coda to this story, David Medine was finally confirmed as Chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board one month ago today, May 7 2013. Finally, a full 1,569 days after Barack Obama was sworn into office as President, the Privacy and Civil Oversight Board exists and is functional. Whether it actually fulfills its functions remains to be seen.

3 comments to While U.S. Government Secretly Tapped Phones and Internet, Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was Stymied

  • They have to read my Google email to protect me from terrorists? Really?

    We’re talking about TRILLIONS of conversations and interactions between Americans – without suspicion of any specific crime – that the government has spied upon.

    If that is not unreasonable search and seizure, nothing is!

    Saxby Chambliss says this is nothing new. Bullshit.

  • Tom

    Yeah, and meanwhile in cities like Philadelphia where they are laying off thousands of school employees and closing down schools for lack of funding the NSA is building a $860m data center in Maryland (in addition to others already in progress). This homeland security/military-industrial system is sucking all the money out of our country and putting it to use AGAINST the citizenry.

    https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2013/06/06/nsa-to-build-860-million-hpc-center-in-maryland/

    NSA Building $860 Million Data Center in Maryland

    As its current data collection makes headlines, the National Security Agency is continuing to expand its data storage and processing capabilities. The agency recently broke ground on an $860 million data center at Fort Meade, Maryland that will span more than 600,000 square feet, including 70,000 square feet of technical space.

    Last month the NSA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began building the High Performance Computing Center-2, an NSA-run facility that will be located on base at Fort Meade, which is home to much of the agency’s existing data center operations. The data center will be supported by 60 megawatts of power capacity, and will use both air-cooled and liquid-cooled equipment.

    The NSA is already building a massive data center in Utah, investing up to $1.5 billion in a project that will feature up to 1 million square feet of facilities.

    The construction at Fort Meade will see investment of $400 million in fiscal 2013 and $431 million in fiscal 2014. Up to 6,000 workers will be involved in the construction and development phase, the NSA said.

    Scheduled for completion in 2016, the center’s mission will be to protect national security networks and providing U.S. authorities with intelligence and warnings about cyber threats. The project is part of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI), which the White House launched in 2008 to provide a unified approach to securing America’s digital infrastructure.

    “With this new state-of-the-art computing center, Maryland and the NSA will continue to protect America from cyber terrorists, spies, and thugs,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee and senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Maryland is the global epicenter of cybersecurity, leading the way in finding cyber-tech solutions that make our country safer, and creating cyber-warrior jobs that make our economy stronger.”

  • Dave

    Jim, thanks for pointing out that the majority of the surveillance programs began under President Obama. I have always had mixed emotions (a better term eludes me) regarding the can of worms that Bush opened during his term of office. Trying to put myself in his shoes, after 9/11 I supposed, considering that no one knew to what extent the U.S. may have been harbouring active cells of like ideology with Mohammed Atta et al, the idea was that someone had to do something really fast and justifiably drastic to avoid more of same. A “dirty” bomb in Dallas? Poison gas in the Holland Tunnel? Counting phone calls from place to place (i.e. any country where the citizens danced in the streets at the news of the WTC devastation to any place U.S.A.) seemed like a pretty good idea if one wants to trace cell activity. Knowing how difficult it would be to get the worms back in the can, the fear of course is, what happens when one wants to use the information gathering to meet political ends?
    Obama has let the “war on terror” drop from the lexicon, and has even indicated that he thinks it is over. Then what the hell is he gathering all the info for? Barry, are you reading this? With a powerful database in place, there will be such a pall over his party’s political enemies by 2016 that few will risk opposing them.

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