It’s still hard for some of us to grasp the motives behind Edward Snowden’s decision to go straight to the press.
Some question why government officials were never warned that pressing concerns related to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs had to be addressed , and some even question the goals behind the final disclosure of the confidential programs to the press.
While all questions are valid and should be addressed timely, recent reports show that Snowden’s recent testimony to the European Parliament assured the public that his concerns had been discussed with at least 10 officials before he decided to go to the press. According to the report, Snowden would have a hard time pursuing any further whistleblowing mainly because of his status as a contractor.
According to the testimony, the decision to go to the press to leak confidential documents only came to Snowden after he exhausted all other formal avenues.
When asked about the circumstances, Snowden replied that he “had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them.” Edward Snowden’s status as an employee of a private company hired by the U.S. government makes it impossible for the contractor to be protected by whistleblower laws, which are only valid to U.S. government direct employees.
Snowden claimed that because he encountered these legal issues, he feared he “would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about lawbreaking in accordance with the recommended process.”
Google claims its business philosophy is the simple, warm-and-fuzzy, “Don’t be evil.” But behind the scenes, the data-trolling and -selling operations the company perpetrates on end-users could hardly be considered noble; at best they might be called self-serving, and at worst a violation of privacy. And now, the corporate juggernaut is using its connections to a high-level lobbyist foundation to buy positive spin and government influence to protect one of its biggest cash cows.
The New York Times recently ran this article, defining Google+, Google’s social network hub that now acts as the backbone of its universal login services. It’s become the easiest method by which Google can track online behavior and commercialize marketing profiles of web users to online advertisers:
Google Plus may not be much of a competitor to Facebook as a social network, but it is central to Google’s future — a lens that allows the company to peer more broadly into people’s digital life, and to gather an ever-richer trove of the personal information that advertisers covet. Some analysts even say that Google understands more about people’s social activity than Facebook does.
The reason is that once you sign up for Plus, it becomes your account for all Google products, from Gmail to YouTube to maps, so Google sees who you are and what you do across its services, even if you never once return to the social network itself.
President Obama’s claim to be responding to people’s concerns related to the NSA’s surveillance programs hasn’t gained momentum, mainly because most Americans still believe that his promised reforms will do nothing to address the real problems.
According to Politico, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that over 60 percent of people who participated said they value privacy over surveillance tactics disguised as anti-terror protections carried out by agencies like the National Security Agency. Since the last time this question was asked of respondents back in August by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, the percentage of Americans that claimed to value privacy over security has gone up two points.
Since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made his revelations public, President Obama has been scrambling to gain the public’s trust back but none of his efforts seems to be paying off. He has recently promised to review NSA’s surveillance system by ensuring that new limits are going to be imposed to the intelligence committee. According to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Obama’s reforms are not going to be effective mostly because the President has misdiagnosed the problem.
According to the most recent poll, only 34% of respondents claimed to support Obama’s reform proposals concerning the FISA court procedures and the creation of a panel of attorneys that would offer counter-arguments to the government, while only 17% say Obama’s proposal to move collected phone data out of the NSA’s hands is valid.
Just two days after a federal judge issued a scathing opinion in which he said the NSA phone metadata program is “likely unconstitutional,” the White House released the report from the five-member panel tasked with reviewing the agency’s data collection methods.
The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology recommending 46 changes, some of which are significant, to the how the NSA gathers intelligence. The suggestions in the 303-page report, Liberty and Security in a Changing World, are non-binding.
“We have emphasized the need to develop principles designed to create strong foundations for the future,” said the panel members a letter to President Barack Obama. “Although we have explored past and current practices, and while that exploration has informed our recommendations, this Report should not be taken as a general review of, or as an attempt to provide a detailed assessment of, those practices.”
“We recognize that our forty-six recommendations, developed over a relatively short period of time, will require careful assessment by a wide range of relevant officials, with close reference to the likely consequences. Our goal has been to establish broad understandings and principles that can provide helpful orientation during the coming months, years, and decades,” the members added.
Initial reports indicated that the panel would suggest that the agency dismantle its vast controversial and heavily criticized phone record database, which stores information on virtually every American. Indeed, the panel even says that “the current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty.”
After The Guardian reported that only 1 percent of the files leaked by Edward Snowden have been published, the Washington Post reported that the NSA also tracks location data from mobile phone users around the world, allowing the agency to gather “nearly 5 billion records a day.”
The NSA is able to do that because it manages to tap into the mobile networks’ cables that happen to serve worldwide cellphones as well as U.S. phones. The NSA does that to collect information regarding its targets.
With this data in its power, the NSA locates and analyzes data from cellphones anywhere in the world. This represents an effort that might have no matching historical precedent since analysts can use this data to retrace cellphones’ movements and uncover potential relationships among users anywhere.
Elements of the intelligence community are not collecting the bulk cellphone location data intentionally, according to Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA. But the NSA collects this information anyway, mainly because one of the agency’s most powerful analytic tools, the CO-TRAVELER, can search unknown associates of intelligence targets by tracing intersecting cellphones.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author and primary sponsor of the USA PATRIOT Act, announced on Wednesday that he would introduce legislation, the USA FREEDOM Act, to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone and Internet metadata.
“My view of the PATRIOT Act hasn’t changed,” said Sensenbrenner at a Cato Institute conference on NSA surveillance.
“What has changed is what two administrations, Bush 43 and the Obama Administration, have done after I left office as chairman of the [House] Judiciary Committee and did not have my tart oversight pen to send oversight letters that usually were cosigned by Congressman [John] Conyers, then-the ranking member, to the Justice Department, and specifically acting like a crabby, old professors when they were non-responsive in their answers,” he explained.
Sensenbrenner has become a fierce critic of the NSA’s surveillance techniques, referring to them as “excessive and un-American” in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The NSA has justified the bulk data collection through a controversial provision of the PATRIOT Act. He contends that the NSA is defying congressional intent as the provision, Section 215, allows intelligence agencies to seize records related to an actual investigation into terrorist activity.
The focus in on the NSA controversy and ObamaCare got us thinking — what are the worst laws passed by Congress? So we did some thinking and came up with some of the most egregious laws to be passed by Congress. The list was so large that we had to cut it into two posts one on personal liberty and the other dealing with economic liberty, which will be posted next week.
The following list isn’t in any particular order, so don’t take one bad law being ahead of another as anything significant.
Espionage Act (1917)
The Espionage Act, passed nearly two months after the United States entered World War I, has had startling ramifications for free speech in the United States. Shortly after becoming law, Eugene Debs, a socialist and labor leader, was arrested and convicted for giving a speech that “interfered” with the recruitment of soldiers for the war effort. The law primarily used for prosecution of alleged spies and whistleblowers working in the government. For example, the government tried to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame under the act, but the jury declared a mistrial. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has also been charged under the Espionage Act. Both Ellsberg and Snownden’s disclosures were embarrassments for the government.
Indian Removal Act (1830)
Back in 2004, Congress passed an amendment offered by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) to an omnibus spending bill to commemorate the signing of the Constitution and declare September 17, the day on which the document was signed by its framers, to be “Constitution Day.”
It’s ironic that a legislative body that frequently steps outside it’s limitations would pass a measure recognizing a document for which they have little regard. In the years preceding the creation of Constitution Day, Congress passed a number of measures that fly in the face of the intent and spirit of the Constitution and the rights protected therein.
But Constitution Day means a little more this year than in the past, given the renaissance the document has seen, particularly in just the past few months.
There are several examples from which we could choose to highlight the rebirth of the Constitution, such as Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster back in March or the defeat of onerous gun control measures, including expanded background checks and a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” that would have further infringed upon Second Amendment rights. But recent developments concerning the NSA and Syria are, arguably, in the back of most Americans’ minds.
Hillary Clinton is starting a whirlwind tour to promote the concept of trusting the government, and touting the merits of transparency in government. While it might be very tempting to consider this a really ironic punchline of a joke, that’s really what the former Secretary of State is doing.
On a practical level, it does make some sense that Hillary would consider it necessary to restore the nation’s faith in its government. As to whether or not she really “gets” why she is absolutely the wrong person to attempt to deliver that message will undoubtedly remain a mystery. Yes, it is very likely that detractors from the right will regularly lampoon her with comments including her infamous statement on Benghazi - “What difference does it make?” That will be enjoyable in the short term, but given the nature of the public and mainstream media, it is foolish to expect that will be enough to defuse her attempts to lie her way to a reasonable chance at seating herself in the Oval Office.
Make no mistake, that is exactly what this tour is about. It has nearly nothing to do with its stated aim. Hillary will be out there making it clear that while she’s somewhat the same as her former boss, she isn’t for the cloak and dagger activities of this administration that have been called “phony scandals” in an attempt to keep them out of the public eye. If that isn’t her gameplan, then she really doesn’t have any intention of running in 2016.
In May 2011, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) took the floor of the Senate to warn his colleagues that Americans would one day be outraged to learn that the U.S. Government was actively engaged in surveillance activities that most citizens would consider outright criminal.
With carefully measured words, to avoid being reprimanded, the Senator from Oregon took the time to bring up an even more serious problem, which also worried his colleague Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM): the Obama administration’s unwillingness to cooperate by allowing for an open debate on the specifics of the government’s classified interpretation of the Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the particular section that allegedly authorizes the NSA to collect records on nearly every single American citizen.
The Obama administration managed to avoid looking into the query and Sen. Wyden’s amendment, which would declassify the Administration’s legal interpretation of Section 215, failed. Congress finally voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four more years despite not having access to one single classified document concerning the number of Americans affected by the surveillance activities authorized under the Patriot Act.
Fast forward to August, 2013. During a recent speech, President Obama claimed his administration had already begun the process of opening the debate on the NSA’s surveillance activities long before Mr. Edward Snowden stepped into the picture.