NSA reforms: Obama not believable

On August 9 President Obama announced reforms to the US intelligence gathering system, apparently in an effort to reassure an increasingly skeptical public. As I sat rolling my eyes at changes we’ll have no way of verifying, he said, “America is not interested in spying on ordinary people.” My thoughts at the time were something along the lines of Either he’s a fool or he thinks we are.

Then came the new revelations this week that the NSA has indeed overstepped its bounds thousands of times since 2008. Among the violations reported by AP and ABC News:

Most of the infractions revealed late Thursday involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by law and executive order, according to the May 3, 2012 audit, and other top-secret documents.

The May audit counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications. Most were reported to be unintended, and many involved failures to take sufficient care or violations of standard operating procedure. They ranged from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interceptions of U.S. emails and telephone calls.

The most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders.

First Congress denies knowing anything about the intelligence program it authorized and is supposed to oversee. Then, assuming he wasn’t deliberately lying, the president demonstrates an obvious lack of knowledge by assuring us our rights are not being violated by an agency where the joke is, in effect, “If we told you what we do, we’d have to kill you.”

Trust in government? I don’t think so.

eaglespying
Image: Electronic Frontier Foundation

16 comments

    1. Yep, I don’t believe for a second that the NSA or its individual employees won’t yield or hasn’t already yielded to that temptation, even if only to “just take a peek,” “just this once.” Nor do I believe that the agency will ever give up the power it now has, even under direct order from Congress or the president. Governments, organizations, and leaders are all alike; they never willingly give up power once they’ve attained it.

      1. You are so right. Hospitals have “peeking” problems with patients with HIPPA. Police depts have the same issue with their access information. Of course employees at NSA “peek” – there’s no honor – and people don’t worry about being caught.
        WHo ever thought we’d be writing things like the last line of this post.
        So discourage – and concerned

  1. I agree that people are people and if the means to snoop and pry are there, somebody’s not going to be able to resist the temptation. From what I read, greater transparency of data collection and processing is on the way. Might be one of the few things this year that both sides of the aisle can agree on.

    That said, I submit that privacy in modern society is an illusion and we might as well get used to it. Security cameras are everywhere, including stores, banks, ATM’s and gas stations. Cop cars in almost every city now have automatic plate readers that record registration, place and time. Retailers, online and bricks both, know what you buy and when and where you buy it, unless you only use cash. And who does that? Airlines and car rental companies have you pegged. Government is allowed by law to record envelope information you send and receive (it was a SCOTUS case), and email seems to be in the same category to me. And the U.S. government has detailed background-check information on millions. There are currently more than a million people cleared for TOP SECRET. (How secret can that be, with so many?) Any late-model car contains a “black box” that records the controls and speed in the final seconds after a crash. If there is any privacy left, its probably only inside our houses. Better keep the drapes drawn – I hear the latest drones are the size of dragon flies.

    Bottom line for me is that this is mostly the price of living in the modern era and the people most inconvenienced by it are criminals and terrorists. I think safety trumps privacy every time, we just need to prevent the abuse of the information. IMO.

    1. There is no expectation of privacy in a public place, so security cameras are not what I’d consider an invasion of privacy. And in most of your other examples we are warned in some way that we may be tracked and therefore we are effectively consenting when we engage in those activities. We consent because those gathering the information are using it for research, marketing, safety, etc. I suppose you could argue that if the TSA is tapping those those sources, we have consented. The difference is, the TSA is not doing it for our benefit or to advance a commercial interest, but to fish for information to use against us. It breaks laws and violates the Constitution in its pursuit of our private information, and I refuse to accept or get used to that. Why have laws to protect our privacy if they aren’t going to be obeyed by the very government that’s supposed to enforce them? It’s not a matter of whether or not it inconveniences us; it’s a matter of law and principle.

      1. You said “TSA” but I assume you meant “NSA”. Yes, we agree on that. I did say I was in favor of more transparency on data collection. I was just trying to point out how modern living is changing the concept of “privacy”.

        1. The difference between being surveilled by a private company and the government is that you can’t opt out of the government unless you radically change your geographical location. With the USA, even that may not be enough.

        2. THIS sounds like the US government asked Lavabit founder Ladar Levison to turn over user records and rather than comply he shuts down his business… for which he may be charged with contempt of court. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

        3. @ Ima,

          You said,

          The difference between being surveilled by a private company and the government is that you can’t opt out of the government unless you radically change your geographical location

          But the point I’ve been trying to make on this post is that you don’t really have any freedom to choose between private companies either, because they all operate pretty much the same way. Unless of course you stay in your bunker and off the highways, decide to do all your financial transactions in cash, have your own utilities, and get your entertainment via rabbit-ears antenna.

  2. The surveillance of the citizens and people by our government is a bass ackwards arrangement.

    If there is surveillance being done, it should be the people doing surveillance on government and elected officials to monitor for corruption, cronyism, and illegal activities. The press should be a part of it. Have we forgotten that the government works for us? That makes us the employers just as shareholders are the ultimate owners of a corporation. The relationship between citizens and the government needs to be defined for what it represents in a democracy….the citizen employers and the hired hands of government. Hired hands do not monitor the employer. A surveillance state is not a democracy. We must reinforce that relationship.

    This is why I support EFF.

    1. I agree the government is supposed to work for us, and our elected representatives in Washington are supposed to be responsible for knowing what they’ve authorized and then overseeing it. Obviously that hasn’t happened, probably because they are far more concerned about getting re-elected than doing what they were elected to do.

      Yes, the EFF is critically important and I support them too.

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