OBAMA AND THE FINAL MEASURE OF DEVOTION

President_Barack_ObamaBelow is today’s column in USA Today (the print version is a bit shorter). The column looks at the effort of President Barack Obama and his congressional allies to get citizens to give up privacy as they did protections of the free press, due process, and international legal principles on earlier scandals. It is truly the final measure of devotion demanded in what has become a virtual cult of personality.


Over the course of five years, President Obama has demanded much from his supporters from promising not to prosecute officials for torture to ordering warrantless surveillance to the quashing of dozens of public interest lawsuits seeking judicial review of his policies to the recent attack on the free press. He even claimed, under his “Kill List” policy , the right to kill any U.S. citizen that he believes to be a threat to the United States. Yet, most Democrats stuck with Obama. Now, however, Obama is demanding the final measure of devotion — he is asking supporters to abandon privacy principles in a move that will fundamentally alter our society. Indeed, he and congressional allies are trying to convince Americans that they can free themselves of fear by simply redefining privacy in a new and surveillance friendly image.

At issue are massive surveillance programs through which the administration has seized data on every call made by every citizen. At the same time, data on millions of emails are being stored showing addresses, subject lines, and attachments. The effort allows citizens to be tracked in their associations and communications. In other words, total transparency of citizens in a new fishbowl society. In response to the outcry last week, Obama and others assured citizens that they have nothing to fear from the government collecting their calls and data. It was like a scene out of the movie The Matrix with politicians trying to convince people to give up their fears and learn to love living in the artificial environment created for them. Of course, as with the prior notions of the free press and the unilateral use of lethal force, people have to surrender prior notions of privacy. Obama explained these are just modest intrusions in the new concept of government-approved privacy. He insisted that so long as the government did not read your emails or listen to your calls, there is no danger to privacy. Likewise, Sen. Lindsay Graham scoffed at the notion of any concern over privacy so long as you don’t call a terrorist.

It is true that the Supreme Court in 1979 ruled that there is less protection afforded to phone numbers, which can be acquired under “pen registers.” Yet, even accepting that ill-conceived decision in Smith v. Maryland, the Court was addressing government seizure of numbers to individuals who become material to investigations. The government previously used “national security letters” to get such information. What the Obama administration has done is effectively issue a national security letter for every citizens in America. Recently, the Obama administration admitted to putting reporters under surveillance and seizing such information in what is viewed by many as an extreme attack on the principles of the free press. Many citizens remained quiet as the administration called reporters potential criminals for speaking with sources in the administration. Then, they learned the government was gathering the same information from them and all other citizens.

The new privacy model would protect only the content of your emails and calls — unless the government wants to read them. Before we are lulled back to sleep by our leaders, it is worth noting what you are about to give up.

The government has been secretly collecting all of your contacts from your intimate friends to political associations to doctors to product suppliers. Thus, if you are a government employee seeking information on being a whistleblower, your effort to reach lawyers or whistleblower groups will be seized.

Consider who you have called or emailed in the last month. The government can learn a great deal about you from just the people you call and subjects of your emails. Your “metadata” can reveal peculiar tastes and associations that you may consider hidden from all but your closest friends – and now a few thousand government monitors. The government will now know not only who you are calling but how long you are speaking, how often you call people or groups, where you call from, and even attachments like photos that you send. Ironically, the actual content of your calls or emails are usually not needed to determine the reason and subject of such communications. When you call an abortion clinic repeatedly or a medical marijuana resource line, the likely purpose of the call is self-evident. For citizens with unpopular political or religious views, repeated calls or emails to certain churches or groups indicate an obvious interest. From intimate affairs to political associations, the purpose of most communications are self-evident, particularly when they are placed within a mosaic of all of your contacts and calls.

In his press conference, Obama repeated the siren call of all authoritarian figures throughout history: while these powers are great, our motives are benign. So there you have it. The government is promising to better protect you if you just surrender this last measure of privacy. Perhaps it is time. After all, it was Benjamin Franklin who warned that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors.

JUNE 10, 2013

100 thoughts on “OBAMA AND THE FINAL MEASURE OF DEVOTION

  1. Gene,

    Anything said about George W. Obama, Commander in Heat…. Needs adequate protection from the truth anywhere it can be found…. What do the call them…. Smoke and mirrors… Hopefully Americans will see through this rhetotic…..

  2. Candidate Obama debates President Obama on Government Surveillance

    This should be mandatory viewing for everyone.
    The opinions expressed are so contradictory that it makes me wonder if the real ( candidate) Obama is locked up in some secure facility.

    I loved the President line – in relation to privacy v security – “We’re going to have to make some choices – as a society”.
    aka
    ‘What was leaked was part of the choice that I made for you without consulting you or informing you.’

  3. Gene H:

    “2) Not necessarily. There is a high probability the sun will rise tomorrow, but it is not a certainty.

    within our reference frame, the sun will most certainly rise tomorrow as it has for the last few billion years.

    3) Only in biomes where chlorophyll is used in photosynthesis. Other biomes may rely upon completely different chemistry.

    we live on earth, on earth grass is absolutely green, unless it is dormant or dead

    4) No, it’s not. Heavy water is D2O, but it is still water.
    if D2O is still water, I encourage you to drink a couple of glassfulls to quench your thirst

    5) No. A rock at height merely has potential energy, but it will not fall to the ground until that potential is realized
    of course not but a rock at a height will fall to earth if dropped

    There are absolutes, no matter what you may think. For logic to work, there has to be absolutes. You cannot have it both ways.

    By the way, Aristotle was a binary thinker, thanks for the many compliments you have given me over the years.

  4. Gene: The probability that confidential information will be misused by any party and/or organization increases with both the size of the available pool of data and the number of actors who have access to said data.

    I do not dispute that. Read what Nick said, verbatim: “I assume, virtually everyone knows that if the govt. has info that it WILL be abused, not CAN..it Will be.”

    He assumes everybody knows the government will absolutely abuse any information it has. He specifically excludes any probability in this matter, and claims an absolute. Not just for some information, not just sometimes; his clear implication is that any information that can be abused will be abused.

    That is patently ridiculous; if it were true the government could not be trusted with any information of any kind. It is a “bogeyman” argument that government is simply evil and all government employees are uniformly immoral and corrupt, every one of them. I presume Nick thinks that not one of them can be trusted simply by virtue of the fact that they have accept a job paid for by taxpayers. It would fit right in to his twisted thinking distorted by juvenile use of false absolutist claims.

  5. leejcarol: Tony you seem to forget the stimulus and there auto bailout without which we would not be where we are or the auto industry back and poised to hire thousands within the next few mths (according to news show this am)

    No, I did not forget that. You seem to forget the vast majority of the stimulus was wasted, and although the auto-bailout was successful it left in place all the corrupt mega-millionaire leaders of that industry that got it into trouble in the first place, and “thousands” of new jobs means hardly anything in a country where “thousands” of new jobs open up every day by natural attrition (retirement and death) of the work force.

    As President I probably would have bailed out the auto-industry, upon condition of all salaries (or more accurately total compensation) over $250K being reduced to $250K until such time as each company had paid back 100% of its borrowed money with inflation-level interest, and was earning a profit and paying a dividend to investors. That loan would be predicated upon a formal bankruptcy proceeding overseen by the DOJ, so that any contracts with officers for higher compensation could be dismissed by the DOJ.

    I do not think the auto-industry bailout saved the economy, it preserved millions of dollars for some individuals that should not have been preserved at all, they had assumed investment risk they should have lost as a bad bet, and in some cases screwed up their companies to the point they deserved to be punished.

    Even if it was in the best interest of the public to preserve the industry itself, it was not in the best interest of the public to provide a bailout that exempted the rich from financial harm. That was not necessary, it was politically corrupt, and we could have preserved the jobs without that, with a loan and strings and oversight attached; exactly as venture capitalists do when one of their investments is in trouble. They do not just open their checkbook and sign a blank one for you, and let you keep your seven figure salary.

  6. The fact that the technology used to conduct this datamining and surveillance has been in development even prior to 9-11says to me that this program, like the use of drones, has taken on a life of its own and Obama just happens to be the guy seated in the Oval Office at this particular time. That’s not really meant to excuse him, but these tax funded technological programs have gathered so much momentum since 9-11 that it would take the second coming of Andrew Jackson to put a stop to them. There’s just too much money behind this stuff; just look at the investors.

  7. Bron,

    2) Your response shows you truly have little grasp on QM. Frame of reference is only tangentially relevant in that the universe is the frame of reference in this question and in the universe it is highly probable the sun will rise tomorrow. It is, however, not certain. There are small probabilities that something could go wrong with the sun’s processes and/or the Earth could be destroyed.

    3) You didn’t specify Earth grass and the simple plant form is one that it is highly probable repeats in alien biomes.

    4) I didn’t say it was healthy for you. I said it was water. And it is.

    There are no absolutes. There are things so probable that they can be considered absolutes for practical purposes, but in universe governed by quantum mechanics, they are still just probabilities.

    Also, Aristotle was a reductionist principle based thinker, not a binary thinker. They appear similar but they are not the same thing. He was not captured by the false dichotomy like binary thinkers are. If you doubt this, see the Law of Thought known as the Law of the Excluded Middle as an illustration that Aristotle was not bound to the binary.

  8. There’s just too much money behind this stuff; just look at the investors

    We the Investors of the United States, in order to form a more perfect profit, establish tax breaks, insure domestic consumption, provide for our common security, promote the general domination, and secure the blessings of wealth to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America

  9. Gene H:

    Quantum mechanics doesnt have much to do with the sun rising tomorrow. Cept at that there sub-atomic level where all them little electrons is buzzin around like bees keeping that ole cat guessing ifn hes alive or dead.

    heavy water is not water, it is a different chemical. It may have similar properties to water but it is not common, everyday, ordinary, high quality H2O.

    If you understood the law of excluded middle you would know that.

  10. “Quantum mechanics doesnt have much to do with the sun rising tomorrow.”

    Yeah, the foundation of reality really doesn’t impact, oh, what’s that thing called again . . . reality.

    http://www-istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/stargaze/Q8.htm

    “heavy water is not water, it is a different chemical.”

    Really.

    “heavy water
    Water containing a significant fraction (up to 100 per cent) of deuterium in the form of D2O or HDO. ”

    from IUPAC. Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the “Gold Book”). Compiled by A. D. McNaught and A. Wilkinson. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford (1997). XML on-line corrected version: http://goldbook.iupac.org (2006-) created by M. Nic, J. Jirat, B. Kosata; updates compiled by A. Jenkins. ISBN 0-9678550-9-8. doi:10.1351/goldbook.

    Note it is called . . . water. So is semi-heavy water (HDO), tritiated water (T2O) and oxygen heavy isotopic water (H2^18O).

    And you should simply know better than that last sentence.

  11. Gene H:

    the sun will rise tomorrow. Whether I understand qm or not.

    heavy water is not water. Go ahead and hoist a glass to your health if you think it is.

    Just like a rattlesnake is not a kingsnake. They are both in the same suborder but they are not the same species.

  12. Bron,

    Feel free to ignore science all you like.

    Your willful ignorance of quantum mechanics doesn’t change that the sun coming up is a matter of high order probability and not certainty.

    Nor does your lack of understanding about chemistry change that there are chemically forms of water other than H2O.

    Even Wiki knows better.

    Look under “according to other features”.

    Or you can stick to your made up definitions like you do in other fields like political science and economics.

    We kind of expect that at this point.

  13. WHAT other kinds of water are there? You can have salt water and sugar water and water with CO2 in it but those are just dissolved substances.

    Please tell me what other kinds of water?

    I dont need to know about QM to live a full life. If I ever want to learn, I will.

  14. the only water that is commonly known as H2O is not heavy water, is not super heavy water. its H atom is 1H not 2H, not 3H.

    are graphite and diamonds the same thing? According to you they are. They are both carbon.

    If a thing can have the same chemical composition and be structurally different [diamonds, graphite] dont you think a thing can be chemically different and take the same form?

    heavy water does not have the same properties as water.

  15. Like I said Bron, even the encyclopedia disagrees with you. Chemically, some other di-atomic oxides are considered water. This isn’t about form or phase. The carbon/diamond example fails because diamond is carbon transformed by heat and pressure into a completely new atomic structure (i.e. it’s build differently). In the waters, the basic structure is the same – an oxygen atom with two other atoms covalently bonded to the two open spots in the oxygen atom’s outer shell of electrons. This holds if it is D2O, T2O or isotopic water. Yes, in common parlance, H2O is known as water. However, in chemistry parlance, it is not the only water.

  16. […] Yet, it is important to note that Senators have come forward to admit that they knew of the massive surveillance program. So, when Clapper was given untrue testimony, these Senators sat quietly and allowed the public to be lied to. They are now holding hearings that assure the public that it can trust them that these programs have foiled “dozens” of plots. It is asking rather a lot from any citizen, but it may be the last measure of devotion demanded by this President. […]

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