President Barack Obama, speaking during a “highly-anticipated speech” at the Justice Department, announced a series of so called reforms to the way the government collects and saves the information of millions of American citizens.
Responding to widespread outcry after leaked information provided by Edward Snowden brought NSA spying to the mainstream, Obama outlined new rules on how telephone records would be collected and used but left in place most of the intelligence practices that have gutted the 4th amendment and essentially turned the United States into a police state.
Critics of government surveillance were quick to denounce the changes as minuscule, noting that intelligence agencies are still allowed to conduct surveillance on millions of Americans without probable cause and that every keystroke will still be captured, every phone call still recorded.
In an interview with CNN, Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange called the speech embarrassing and full of lies.
Representative Rush Holt says:
The President’s speech offered far less than meets the eye.
“His proposals continue to allow surveillance of Americans without requiring a Fourth Amendment determination of probable cause. They continue to regardAmericans as suspects first and citizens second. They continue to allow the government to build backdoors into computer software and hardware. They fail to strengthen protections for whistleblowers who uncover abusive spying.
“The President spoke about navigating ‘the balance between security and liberty.’ But this is a faulty and false choice. As Barack Obama himself urged in his first inaugural address, we must ‘reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.’
“The Fourth Amendment and other civil liberty protections do not exist to impede police or intelligence agencies. To the contrary, they exist to hold to hold government agents to a high standard – to ensure that they act on the basis of evidence, rather than wasting time and resources on wild goose chases.
“Even the modest improvements announced today are subject to reversal at a stroke of the President’s pen. A standard of ‘trust my good intentions’ isn’t good enough. Congress should reject these practices and repeal the laws that made the NSA’s abuses possible.”
Senator Rand Paul says:
President Obama’s announced solution to the NSA spying controversy is the same unconstitutional program with a new configuration ….
“The American people should not expect the fox to guard the hen house,” Paul said about Obama’s promise to appoint a special White House oversight director to keep a watchful eye over the security programs.
Leading constitutional and military law expert Jonathan Turley writes:
I just listened to the NSA speech by President Obama and as expected there is precious little in terms of real change. For civil libertarians, it is a nothing burger served hot and with a sympathetic smile. It is much of the same.
The programs will continue and the intelligence community will retain its authority with little outside independent limits. The speech had the feel of a car salesman coming back from “speaking with the manager” and saying that he is able to offer a deal that no one likes but he wants to offer because he likes the customer. Of course, this “deal” does not require our consent.
In the end, the changes are either undefined (like the privacy advocates) or basically “trust us were your government” (including a reminder that NSA people are your neighbors).
The Paul Revere reference at the beginning seemed to set the less than honestapproach of the speech. Revere and the Sons of Liberty were watching public movement of an enemy at war. Likewise, Obama again references “court” review of the metadata as if it were a true court applying real probable cause. FISC has been widely ridiculed as arubber-stamp for the government. The Court is given a standard that is hard for the government not to satisfy with even the most casual filings.
Michael Ratner – President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights – says:
He starts with a lot of BS about oversight, transparency, kicks a bunch of it to Congress,all completely meaningless. And he starts on, let’s say–well, his main point when he started talking about the reforms was also interesting to me. He says, after he talks about all of, you know, the 9/11 and the patriots who were spies, then he says it’s not enough to trust us, the government. We have to put into place, laws, etc. So it’s not just us as the government, not enough to trust us.
But in fact, everything that he says, we’re going to have to trust the government, which we’ve shown that we can’t trust.
President Obama also continued to push the surveillance state apologist line by insisting that the NSA had not abused its power and that it was simply reacting to a post 9/11 world. In bringing up 9/11, Obama hoped to remind the American people that without the NSA spying on their porn habits, another terror attack would happen. This despite the fact that in the past his White House has touted the “decimation” of the very terrorists who supposedly carried out the attack.
The sheer amount of open power the NSA has should immediately put to rest any idea that they can or will be reformed by this President or any future President without massive and widespread support from all angles of American society.
A list put together by The Brian Lehrer Show documented what the agency can actually do.
- It can track the numbers of both parties on a phone call, as well location, time and duration. (More)
- It can hack Chinese phones and text messages. (More)
- It can set up fake internet cafes. (More)
- It can spy on foreign leaders’ cell phones. (More)
- It can tap underwater fiber-optic cables. (More)
- It can track communication within media organizations like Al Jazeera. (More)
- It can hack into the UN video conferencing system. (More)
- It can track bank transactions. (More)
- It can monitor text messages. (More)
- It can access your email, chat, and web browsing history. (More)
- It can map your social networks. (More)
- It can access your smartphone app data. (More)
- It is trying to get into secret networks like Tor, diverting users to less secure channels. (More)
- It can go undercover within embassies to have closer access to foreign networks. (More)
- It can set up listening posts on the roofs of buildings to monitor communications in a city. (More)
- It can set up a fake LinkedIn. (More)
- It can track the reservations at upscale hotels. (More)
- It can intercept the talking points for Ban Ki-moon’s meeting with Obama. (More)
- It can crack cellphone encryption codes. (More)
- It can hack computers that aren’t connected to the internet using radio waves. (Update: Clarification — the NSA can access computers through radio waves on which it has already installed hidden devices.) (More)
- It can intercept phone calls by setting up fake base stations. (More)
- It can remotely access a computer by setting up a fake wireless connection. (More)
- It can install fake SIM cards to then control a cell phone. (More)
- It can fake a USB thumb drive that’s actually a monitoring device. (More)
- It can crack all types of sophisticated computer encryption. (Update: It is trying to build this capability.) (More)
- It can go into online games and monitor communication. (More)
- It can intercept communications between aircraft and airports. (More)
- (Update) It can physically intercept deliveries, open packages, and make changes to devices. (More) (h/t)
And to think, these are only the powers that we know about.
All in the all the speech was more of the same, touting and promoting the surveillance state while providing minor lip service to Americans worried about government spying but not engaged enough politically to see through his commercial like bullshit.
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Contributed by Alex Thomas of Alternative News Daily.