President Obama just gave a speech, wherein he addressed the NSA surveillance revelations. From CNN:
Sweeping up Americans’ telephone records and monitoring Internet activity from overseas are “modest encroachments on privacy” that can help U.S. intelligence analysts disrupt terror activity, President Barack Obama said Friday.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” he reassured Americans…
And from Yahoo!:
“I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs,” Obama said…”My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly. We actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards.”
Isn’t that reassuring? Obama says he means well!
Dan has posed the question, Is revelation of phone data gathering “scandal” a (kind of) distraction?
With respect, my answer is: Perhaps. Maybe the Obama crew staged the NSA revelations, to divert attention from their main scandals.
But, if true, wouldn’t it mean they’re getting desperate? (Telling the media “Don’t cover that scandal, cover *this* one.”) As a fan of truth coming to light, I’m pleased. And don’t worry, the other scandals are still under investigation and have plenty of revelations to come. There will be plenty of oxygen for them.
So, getting back to the NSA revelations…I’m worried by some of the commentary I’ve seen.
Dan quotes law professor John Yoo as saying that this “data collecting isn’t unconstitutional because the Fourth Amendment only protects the content of phone calls and not information on the dialed numbers, length of the calls, etc.” And Yoo may well be right, as regards the state of the law today.
But that doesn’t necessarily make it right. Here is the text of the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The right to be secure in your “papers”. Now, the Framers (of the Constitution) said “papers” in part because they couldn’t conceive of phone calls. In their day, people communicated over distances by paper letters. Can you imagine one of the Framers saying the following?
Having the Post Office collect data for the President on every letter that every person sends isn’t unconstitutional because the Fourth Amendment only protects the content of letters and not information on the sender and recipient, the weight of the letters (or number of pages), etc.
I can’t. In other words, I don’t find it terribly reassuring to be told that they don’t actually open the
letters phone calls and read listen to them.
Finally, I would remind people that the NSA is traditionally much closer to the White House than the other security agencies, which is why I put “for the President” in the above mock-up. I do support counter-terrorism, but… Color me skeptical. I have concerns on this.