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home : opinion : news views May 24, 2016

6/14/2013 11:34:00 PM
The Politics Of Snooping
Gary Gerard
Times-Union General Manager

I get a kick out of the politics of the snooping “scandal” going on in Washington.
It’s fun to watch Republicans stumble all over themselves to castigate the Obama administration for peering into the emails, telephone calls, et. al. of innocent Americans.
Because if I remember correctly, it was these same Republicans who said things like FISA and the USA PATRIOT Act were necessary to keep us safe when George W. Bush was president.
Of course, the converse of this is true.
When Bush signed the Patriot Act into law lots of Demos were up in arms about it, but now they’re on board with Obama’s snooping.
Well, I can go on record as saying I’ve always been against warrantless wiretaps, FISA and the Patriot Act.
I was critical of W’s circumvention of the Constitution. Sadly, Obama is worse.
To me, the Patriot Act was the camel’s nose under the privacy tent. Next thing you know, the camel’s in your sleeping bag.
I was fairly confident future administrations would expand it or abuse it because all politicians regardless of party lust for power. It was government overreach at its worst and there was a huge propensity for abuse.
W also made a habit of using “signing statements.” Basically, it means that the president signs the law, but then says he doesn’t have to abide by it.
Here’s an excerpt from a column I wrote on July 28, 2007:
W's signing statements have accompanied some 750 statutes passed by Congress, including a ban on the torture of detainees and the renewal of the Patriot Act, according to a Boston Globe report. Other laws W says he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, “whistle-blower” protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.
By comparison, President Bill Clinton used signing statements 105 times. President Ronald Reagan used them 71 times.
At the same time we’ve got “national security letters.”
The Washington Post reports: “The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters – one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people – are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.
“Issued by FBI field supervisors, the national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports.”
And how about those warrantless wiretaps?
It's getting a little crazy.
It's getting to the point where I'm wondering what kind of political and economic systems I'm living under.
Now, back when I wrote that, I was some alarmist weirdo. I certainly raised the ire of some of my conservative friends who thought I was picking on W.
Today, given the breadth of Obama’s snooping, what I wrote about regarding W’s shenanigans seems almost passé.
See, I think lots of provisions in the Patriot Act fly in the face of the First and Four Amendments – free speech and privacy.
Apparently, I’m lining up pretty squarely with the ACLU on this issue, which is very unusual for me. Usually, I chide that outfit as the American Criminal Lovers Union.
The ACLU has filed a lawsuit to stop the National Security Agency surveillance programs.
The ACLU says the programs harvest phone calls, violating the rights of all Americans.
"The program goes far beyond even the permissive limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy," said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director.
"The crux of the government's justification for the program is the chilling logic that it can collect everyone's data now and ask questions later," said Alex Abdo, a staff attorney for the ACLU's National Security Project.
Bingo.
President Obama and aides have defended the NSA phone and Internet intercept programs, saying they have helped prevent terrorist attacks and are subject to oversight by Congress and a special – secret – court.
"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program is about," Obama told reporters during a visit to California's Silicon Valley.
"In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we've struck the right balance," Obama said
"You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience," Obama said. "We're going to have to make some choices as a society. ... There are trade-offs involved."
Ah, a trade-off. I am not a fan of this trade-off.
But Obama thinks we need to trade a little liberty for a little security. That’s weird, because during Obama’s first election campaign he called that very same “trade-off” a “false choice.”
In 2007, Obama railed against W’s monitoring of innocent Americans. (Emphasis mine.)
“No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime, no more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war… This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. ...  “
Nice speech there, Mr. Obama.
I agreed with Obama the candidate. Problem is, Obama the president has a snooping resumé that makes W look like an amateur.
And sadly, despite all the hypocrisy and dishonesty, nobody really blames Obama for anything. It’s like he’s just a poor victim circumstance or something.
Even more sadly, a recent poll showed nearly 60 percent of Americans don’t even care if the government spies on them for no good reason.
Remember people – data is knowledge. Knowledge is power. That’s all you need to know to understand the government’s quest for data.
You are as likely to win the Powerball drawing and be struck by lightening on the same day as you are to be attacked by a terrorist.
Now, you decide. What is all this snooping really about? Keeping people safe, or controlling them? Defeating terrorists, or steamrolling dissenters and political opponents?





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