This Friday, President Barack Obama is scheduled to release some reforms to the unconstitutional, authoritarian electronic spying network operated through the military’s National Security Agency. Personally, I’m not expecting much from Obama, and regardless of what he says, he’s lost my trust on this issue. Obama has spent every year of his presidency so far lying about NSA spying, and blocking oversight and reforms of its activities. Why should we believe anything he says about the NSA now?
What we need to see are not Executive Branch promises, but strong legislation from Congress that places severe limits on Executive espionage powers. Repealing the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act would be ideal.
A first step, far short from the ideal, but promising, was introduced by a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives yesterday. H.R. 3855, the Intelligence Budget Transparency Act, would force the White House to report in the annual budget the amount of spending on “intelligence” activities throughout the federal government. These gross totals, department by department, wouldn’t reveal what government spies are doing, much less reveal the extent to which the federal government is violating our Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. However, this information would at least give Congress a way to track trends in federal spending on surveillance programs as a whole – something that isn’t possible for at present.