This morning we have yet another article detailing a warrantless surveillance program by the National Security Agency that contradicts representations made by President Barack Obama and members of Congress. You may recall how Obama has tried to get citizens to embrace a new surveillance-friendly model of privacy after the disclosure of massive surveillance of citizens, including programs acquiring every call made by citizens. Various Democratic members came forward to admit that they knew of such programs and not to be afraid . . . they have our backs. Yet every story that has surfaced has contradicted claims that such programs are limited and do not involve the content of communications in emails and messages. The latest program being reported is called XKeyscore and is described as scouring emails, chat rooms, and browsing histories . . . all without a warrant. In the meantime, citizens in polls are saying that they are more concerned with the threat of their own government to their privacy than the threat of terrorism. Once again, citizens learned of this program not from their representative or their media but largely from the foreign press and the disclosures of Edward Snowden.
Of course, media allies of the President are expressing exasperation with people like Snowden in keeping them from moving on to other subjects and away from the eradication of privacy in America.
The NSA for its part has denied reports “of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true.” Something tells me it is the “unchecked” that the agency is stressing. The Obama Administration is infamous for replacing due process and privacy guarantees with its own self-evaluation and monitoring guarantees.
This program is described as allowing the agency access to “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet” in “real time.”
As these reports mount, the Democratic Party remains largely silent. While there was a highly orchestrated vote on the surveillance program recently (that predictably failed by just a few votes), the Democratic Party has now joined prior Bush supporters in attacking the most fundamental protections of U.S. citizens. The winner is a growing security state that employs hundreds of thousands and pours hundreds of billions of dollars into the pockets of agencies and their contractors. Citizens have become the subjects of such programs like raw material for an insatiable and unstoppable surveillance machine.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald has detailed how low-level employees have access to such material. My guess is that the NSA will focus on that issue rather than the existence of these programs. It is now a common technique of the Obama Administration: focusing on the procedures rather than the privacy concerns. We are likely to hear about criteria and internal reviews as part of the “trust me I am Obama” approach to authoritarian powers. After all, they got away with that in announcing a policy allowing Obama to vaporize U.S. citizens based on his sole authority.
With Congress now fully supporting this surveillance state, citizens are left with a dangerous vacuum in our constitutional system. The federal courts have created a blind spot where they bar judicial review on the basis of increasingly narrow standing rules and classification barriers. Even reading about these issues is difficult. As we have been discussing, the U.S. media has largely yielded to demands of the White House not to call Snowden a whistleblower and we often have to read about these programs from foreign sources like the Guardian.
How did we come to this point as a nation?