While the media in the United States (with some notable exceptions) have been criticized for relatively soft coverage of attacks on civil liberties by the Obama Administration, the British press appears to be filling the gap. The Guardian is reporting on a massive surveillance program by the Obama Administration where the government has ordered Verizon (and presumably other carriers) to turn over all calls made within the United States and calls between the United States and other countries. The surveillance was conducted under an order from our controversial secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and demanded by the Justice Department and the FBI. The Administration has confirmed the existence of the program — another blow to civil liberties under Attorney General Eric Holder and this president. It also adds another area where Obama officials appear less than candid with Congress. [Update: USA Today first revealed aspects of this program in 2006]
The order signed by Judge Roger Vinson requires the company to turn over the phone numbers, location, duration, time and unique identifiers for all calls for all citizens. There is no effort to confine the search for individuals connected to any investigation. It is a sweeping surveillance on all citizens. Of course, just as Democrats have remained quiet over the recent attacks on the free press, it is not clear if even this abuse will generate opposition in Congress. Civil libertarians have been complaining for years about these programs and have met a wall of silence from Democrats protecting President Obama and Eric Holder.
In February, the Administration succeeded in blocking a challenge to its surveillance policies by arguing that any confirmation of such programs would put American lives at risk. Now that the case is dismissed, they have simply acknowledged the program. The decision is Clapper v. Amnesty International, No. 11-1025, and it is a true nightmare for civil liberties. The Supreme Court rejected the standing of civil liberties groups and citizens to challenge the Obama Administration’s surveillance programs. President Obama has long been criticized for his opposition to such lawsuits and his Justice Department has continued a successful attack on the ability of citizens to challenge the unconstitutional actions of their government in the war on terror. The 5-4 opinion by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. insulates such programs from judicial review in yet another narrowing of standing rules.
Alito rejected the ability of an array of journalists, lawyers and human rights advocates to challenge the constitutionality of the 2008 law allowing secret surveillance without meeting constitutional standards of probable cause. Alito simply said that the parties could not prove that they were subject to surveillance — since the Obama Administration has classified such evidence — and insisted that their fears and precautionary actions are merely efforts to “manufacture standing by incurring costs in anticipation of nonimminent harms.”
Alito wrote that just because no one may be able to challenge the law is no reason to recognize standing — a position that guts the separation of powers principles underlying judicial review. He also cites to the secret FISA as judicial review — a truly laughable proposition. I have been in that court as a NSA legal intern and the thought that it constitutes any real form of review is a preposterous notion. I have written and testified on this court in the past.
Now we can see the inevitable consequence of this secret court and the Administration’s surveillance program. The Administration is creating a massive databank for all calls, including calls within the United States. This surveillance program is the result of a sense of political immunity reflected in this Administration. With some Democrats blindly following this President, there appears no concern over excessive surveillance or the ever-expanding security state. It is the final evidence of how Obama has truly crippled the civil liberties movement in the United States.