The Los Angeles Times writes of President Barack Obama’s maneuver yesterday to defend the Big Brother electronic surveillance program begun under George W. Bush: “President Obama proposed significant new limits on the power of intelligence agencies to secretly collect vast amounts of information on Americans.”
Significant? New limits? Hardly.
We already have limits on the power of U.S. government spy agencies, and they’re much more significant than anything that Barack Obama has proposed.
The limits we have come from the Bill of Rights, from the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Barack Obama wants to continue a system of electronic searches and seizures of Americans’ papers that fails to show probable cause, and fails to particularly describe the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Obama wants to continue to grab Americans’ emails and texts, to watch where Americans go on the Internet, to seize Americans’ passwords, and to listen in on their telephone calls without any search warrant. Obama wants to continue to do all this with the approval of a rubber stamp court that meets in secret, without accountability to the public.
Not one of President Obama’s proposed reforms gets anywhere close enough to restoring the trust of the American people. Obama has been extremely vague about what actual reforms he wants to create, but it is suggested that Obama wants to add a new secret lawyer, to the secret FISA court. Also, it is hinted that Obama wants to give American corporations a bigger role in helping the government to run the Big Brother spying system.
These changes are underwhelming, especially in light of Barack Obama’s broken promises on government spying in the past.
As a senator, Obama promised to vote against the FISA Amendments Act. He even promised to filibuster it. Then, he not only failed to filibuster, but voted in favor of the FISA Amendments Act.
As a presidential candidate Barack Obama promised that he would reform the FISA Amendments Act and Patriot Act if he was elected. Since Barack Obama was elected, he has repeatedly insisted that Congress renew the FISA Amendments Act and Patriot Act without reform. Obama has also purposefully prevented the activation of an oversight board that was supposed to check in on government spying and note violations of constitutional rights.
So now that President Obama wants to tamp down public anger about the Big Brother system that spies on the American people, he’s offering window dressing that he calls “reform”. It’s not nearly enough.
Obama lost credibility on this issue years ago. He’s not a President that we can believe in. There’s no basis for trust.
So, if Obama really wants to take action on this issue, the action needs to be decisive:
- Repeal the Patriot Act.
- Repeal the FISA Amendments Act.
- Disband the FISA court.
- Prohibit the National Security Agency, and all other parts of the military, from conducting any espionage within U.S. borders.
- Create and activate a Privacy Board that is independent from Executive Branch control and is fully transparent to the American people, which will publish full reports on both governmental and corporate violations of privacy in communications media – in print, Internet, audio, and video.
When Barack Obama and Congress work together to enact these reforms, then they’ll have my trust back. Until then, I see no reason to believe a word they have to say.