“Trust Us”, Says The Surveillance State

“Trust Us”, Says The Surveillance State

Welcome to the surveillance state! If you had any doubts before, here’s Obama with “NSA reforms” to reaffirm any suspicions you have. His idea of reform? “Trust us.” Paul was on the mark when he told Bill Hemmer on America’s Newsroom last Wednesday that:

“You can’t expect the fox to guard the hen house.”

Obama can promise more oversight of the NSA, but can we trust the same government that failed to provide adequate oversight to begin with?

It’s hard to feel reassured when the only possible impediment to the “collect everything, keep everything forever” attitude of the NSA is placing the records that the NSA keeps into the hands of a third party. Phone companies don’t want any part of that so does that mean Obama will create another agency? We all know how effective HealthCare.gov is…

“That might lead to sweaty nightmares of Obama handing a few terabytes of private data over to the goobers who created HealthCareDotGov,” comments John Hayward of Human Events, “although on second thought, maybe that’s the best way to ensure it becomes extremely difficult to access. Wouldn’t you feel better knowing your metadata was shielded by few dozen 404 error messages, server crashes, incomprehensible web forms, and half-written database software?”

Whether or not that information is ever given to a third party, the NSA’s ability to access that information is still left to the discretion of the FISC now with the support, er, oversight of the attorney general:

“…I have directed the attorney general to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding or in the case of a true emergency,” said Obama during his announcement last Friday.

In other words, “warrants” won’t be handled any differently than before. Add on that this is the same court that approved nearly 97 percent of all previous requests upon the first submission, according to HuffPost.

Sure, the NSA can now only collect “two hops” rather than “three hops” worth of information around a given target, but that still leaves a wide margin for the NSA to work with:

“With one less hop — friends of friends – the NSA could still investigate a large percentage of the US, since each individual has about 200,000-400,000 of these associations,” according to TechCrunch.

And then maybe we’ll get a public advocate in the FISC:

“To ensure that the court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, [Obama is] also calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.” (Washington Post)

That, of course, depends on what an advocate from “outside government” means. Paul told Wolf Blitzer last Saturday that he has little faith in a public advocate that still works for the government:

…My reform that I’m doing with Senator Wyden does have a public advocate in there. But, ultimately, I think what legal scholars will tell you is that to find truth, we have this adversarial process where someone actually literally works for you on your side of the question and on the government’s side of the question and it goes back and forth and it’s our way of trying to find truth in our courts. …

You know, we have an IRS advocate right now and I haven’t seen hide nor hair of our IRS advocate during these scandals when they were investigating Tea Party groups. So I don’t think it works, necessarily, if they’re appointed by the government.

Paul is pushing for greater oversight of the NSA by Congress and the Supreme Court. However, this could come back with its drawbacks as well as pointed out by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ 12th District) on MSNBC:

Because the work of the NSA is so extensive and so technical, courts overseeing its programs need enhanced technical expertise.

The NSA has previously been accused of presenting the FISC with limited information, according to the Washington Post. (That might explain that 97 percent approval rate.) What’s to say it won’t do the same for Congress?

The HuffPost recently reported that what exactly the NSA does is already a current problem for members of Congress. One group from Congress has already reached out to Bruce Schneier, one of the experts working on the Snowden documents, so they could get a handle on what they might be missing.

It’s important that we have people like Paul who are constantly questioning and challenging what our government does, because not everyone in the government likes to follow the idea of checks and balances. Unfortunately, there’s still that one thing that we can’t avoid. We may deny the reality of it, but the surveillance state is here and it’s been here for a while. Thanks, Obama, for reminding us.

 
(Photo courtesy of Paulo Ordoveza, via Flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0)

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