NSA scandal

Obama Upset that Americans Distrust Government

“[I]f people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and Rule of Law, then we’re going to have some problems here.” — Barack Obama

Those words were uttered by Obama recently in response to the unfolding scandal surrounding the revelation that the NSA is collecting data on every American, and I have to agree with him. If we can’t trust our very own government, made up of elected officials who have taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic; and if we can’t trust the army of bureaucrats employed by government to execute these laws and policies, then we do indeed have a problem.

And for all of those Americans currently engaged in weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, who are acting as if this monitoring of the private thoughts of every American is somehow sinister and unconstitutional, who “…warn that tyranny [is] always lurking just around the corner”, as Obama said to the students at Ohio State University; well, as Obama also said “You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”

And why shouldn’t we trust our government? It’s not like the NSA (National Security Agency) has been collecting data on virtually every phone call, text message, email, internet search, Facebook post, and pretty much all other forms of digital communication used by more than 300 million Americans.

Leftist hypocrisy on free speech and government surveillance

One truth about politics: when those who have taken up one side of an issue are forced to accept and defend that same issue, should it suit their needs to do so, the acknowledgement of their previous criticism will be generally non-existent.

Take the histrionics surrounding 2010’s Citizens United decision — “Corporations aren’t people! They shouldn’t have First Amendment rights! Elections will be bought and sold by evil dark money special interest groups! Those with the most cash will always win!”

Forgetting for a moment that Barack Obama managed to get re-elected despite the impressive amount of money that was raised to support Mitt Romney via super PACs that were not associated with his actual campaign, this idea that corporations — really just groups of people — shouldn’t retain First Amendment speech rights is proving quite the interesting conundrum for those who both HATED the Citizens United decision but now find themselves DESPISING that National Security Agency’s (NSA) peek under the hood at millions of lines of metadata on American citizens’ phone records.

Because corporations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Google are taking the uncomfortable action of invoking their First Amendment speech rights to file suit, in the case of the former, and in requesting the release of records showing exactly how persistent the government was in insisting that the search giant provide them private information on American citizens.

Michael Turk wrote a terrific blog post detailing a similarly terrific piece on the ACLU v. Clapper case by Wendy Kaminer at The Atlantic at his blog, Kung Fu Quip:

Punk rock is still politically dead

Back in November, Mark Judge wrote an interesting piece at Acculturated entitled, “Punk Rock’s Moment,” that explained how the punk rock genre and cultural has an opportunity to “become relevant once again” after President Barack Obama’s re-election.

“Punk is often considered an anarchic or at least liberal art form, but politically it has been all over the map. Most famously there was Johnny Ramone, the right-wing guitarist for the Ramones,” noted Judge. “And while the famous Washington, D.C., harDCore scene, once lead by Fugazi, was–is?–full of left-wing activism, the ‘straight edge’ philosophy of some of the band–no booze no drugs–could almost be considered monastic. The Replacements was always more about parties and poetry than elections.”

Judge explained that the Dead Kennedy was one of the “great satirical punk bands of all time,” pointing to the band’s ability to question their own beliefs, which is something he says is sorely missing in today’s punk scene. Instead, he explains, punk bands of today are “afraid to touch [their] messiah,” President Obama.

“Satirical art has collapsed under Obama. The left is afraid to touch its messiah, and the right is reduced to silly gestures like doing ‘freedom raps’ and other ham-fisted foolishness,” wrote Judge. “When I was coming up in the 1980s, punk groups like Fugazi, Husker Du, the Replacements and the Dead Kennedys meant energy, passion, and, sometimes, political activism. But they also meant self-reflection and aiming the lance at even your own sacred cows.”

Companies working with the NSA could get blanket immunity

National Security Agency HQ

The common American might be at a much more vulnerable spot now that Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, asked lawmakers for more authority in order to offer liability immunity to companies working closely with the National Security Agency in digital defense programs.

The change in law would allow for mistakes to go unaccounted for in case a company hits the wrong target while attempting to block the home base of a suspicious or seemingly threatening source. While this change in the law seems harmless to some, it could offer protection to companies that act on behalf of the agency, and leave innocent consumers without any access to legal recourse.

Congress was left with the duty of rethinking how private companies are held liable. According to POLITICO, a White House official assured that the Obama administration would be willing to accept a change in the law in order to maintain a company protected while participating in defensive countermeasures online. The source remained anonymous.

While many companies still fight to protect their reputation after news regarding the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs broke, the increased immunity would strip a firm’s only incentive to resist government pressure: its good name.

While certain companies still take their consumers’ privacy into consideration, some fear losing their strong presence in the market, which is why they might be welcoming to the change in the law. Some companies may see this as an opportunity to have their assets protected by avoiding being hit with lawsuits over possible target errors.

NSA Scandal Not about Republican vs. Democrat — It’s about Liberty vs. the State

Liberty and the NSA

It’s been a week since Glenn Greenwald broke the story on the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of calls made on the Verizon network. There have been a lot of arguments made for and against this program over the last week, and the battlelines have been clearly drawn.

First, let’s recap. This sort of surveillance has been around for at least seven years, perhaps even longer. The difference between what was going on with the NSA under the Bush Administration and what is currently going in the Obama Administration is that the former didn’t bother with court orders or warrants to conduct this sort of blanket surveillance.

So when the apologists for the program say it’s “legal,” like Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) did yesterday, they’re referring to the the statutory authority granted via Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, a controversial provision of the law that allows intelligence agencies to obtain a court order to collect this information from businesses. More on this in a moment.

Using this section of the law, the NSA obtained authority from a secret court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to force Verizon to turn over the phone records of millions of customers, even if they are not suspected of terrorist activity.

Why The NSA Collecting Your Phone Records Is A Problem

Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Privacy advocates and surveillance experts have suspected for years that the government was using an expansive interpretation of the Patriot Act’s §215 “business record” authority to collect bulk communications records indiscriminately. We now have confirmation in the form of a secret order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to Verizon — and legislators are saying that such orders have been routinely served on phone carriers for at least seven years. (It seems likely that similar requests are being served on Internet providers — increasingly the same companies that provide us with wireless phone services).

Some stress that what is being collected is “just metadata”—a phrase I’m confident you’ll never see a computer scientist or data analyst use. Metadata—the transactional records of information about phone and Internet communications, as opposed to their content—can be incredibly revealing, as the recent story about the acquisition of Associated Press phone logs underscores. Those records, as AP head Gary Pruitt complained, provide a comprehensive map of reporters’ activities, telling those who know how to look what stories journalists are working on and who their confidential sources are. Metadata can reveal what Websites you read, who you communicate with, which political or religious groups you’re affiliated with, even your physical location.

Senator Obama vs. President Obama on Government Surveillance

President Barack Obama and his apologists in Congress have launched a full-scale defense of his administration broad use the PATRIOT Act, through which the NSA is surveilling millions of Americans who have done absolutely nothing wrong. The reversal on the part of Obama is astonishing.

As the NSA scandal — and yes, it is a scandal — was breaking on Wednesday and into Thursday, news outlets began uncovering some of the past positions Obama took when he was a Senator and a presidential candidate. While his presidency has been more like George W. Bush’s third and fourth term, Obama once took a strong stand on civil liberties — believe it or not.

The Hill noted last week that then-Sen. Obama co-sponsored legislation in 2005 that would have banned the mass collection of phone records, like the NSA has done with Verizon. And during the summer of 2007, when he was campaigning for the Democratic Party’s nomination, Obama knocked the policies of the the Bush Administration and pledge that he would take a direction that respected civil liberties.

Obama’s big economic speech rehashes old, failed ideas

Hoping to distract Americans from the string of scandals coming out of his administration and all of the negative headlines about his healthcare law, President Barack Obama gave what was billed as a major economic speech yesterday in Illinois:

President Obama sought to take credit for the economic recovery on Wednesday with a speech that declared the country had “fought its way back” from a recession that threatened the American Dream.

“We’ve cleared away the rubble from the financial crisis and begun to lay a new foundation for stronger, more durable economic growth,” Obama said in a speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.

“Add it all up, and over the past 40 months, our businesses have created 7.2 million new jobs,” Obama said. “This year, we are off to our strongest private-sector job growth since 1999.”

Wait, what economic recovery? Sure, things have gotten somewhat better since the recession, but unemployment is still high as employers try to deal with heavy regulations and ObamaCare and Americans are still struggling to get by.

Obama also went out of his way to criticize Republicans for the sequester, very minor cuts to rate of spending increases over the next 10 years that the President himself supported signed into law, and their focus on the scandals that emerged from his administration. If you listen to Obama, none of this is his administration’s fault. No, he is actually blaming Republicans for investigating things like the IRS’s targeting of groups critical of his administration and the NSA’s surveillance of innocent Americans. How dare they do their jobs?!?

Your Ox Will Eventually Be Gored

It seems logical that every American, regardless of political affiliation/philosophy, race, religion or creed, would be concerned about the revelations concerning domestic spying on the part of the NSA. If the Obama administration can spy on and mistreat the Tea Party and other right wing causes, the next Republican administration could spy on and mistreat Occupy Wall Street and other left wing causes.

As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case. According to an article by David A. Love, the black community has largely greeted this news with a shrug and a yawn.

Is this lack of concern because many blacks do not want to be critical of the first black* president? This might account for some of this shrugging but Love suspects that there is something much deeper at work here:

The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government […]
[…]
African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.

The mistreatment of blacks did not end when slavery was abolished, of course. Love goes on to describe several other atrocities such as the Tuskegee experiment, J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and others.

Government metadata collection threatens Americans’ privacy, First Amendment rights

Courts and the Fourth Amendment

In a new video from the Cato Institute, Julian Sanchez explains that the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of public, which ostensibly treats all Americans as if they’re potential terrorists, is more concerning that most are willing to concede.

Sanchez notes that the NSA has been collecting more than just phone records. He goes into detail about the metadata collected through the agency’s warrentless surveillance of the Internet and the threat it represents to Americans’ privacy and First Amendment rights.

“Now, why you might wonder would Internet metadata provoke so much more controversy than phone metadata. And I think if you think about the way we use the Internet, it becomes clear that it’s sensitive as a record of phone calls is — it can reveals things like who’s called a suicide hotline or a substance abuse counselor, Sanchez told Caleb Brown, who hosted the chat. “The Internet is something we use, I think, a lot more frequently throughout the day, not just to make calls, but to read things, to engage in political discussions with lots of other people.”


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