Thursday, January 23, 2014


In a sign of how damaging the NSA revelations, President Obama spent Martin Luther King Day on the Tonight Show doing damage control with Jay Leno. According to Obama, the whole thing is President Bush's fault (of course) and Obama reviewed what was being collected and made needed reforms. Not mentioned was that Obama waited 5 years before making any reforms or an acknowledgement that this would never have happened had it not been for the Snowden leaks.

Obama also said that the safety of America is the last thing he thinks about when he goes to bed and the first thing he things about when he gets up. That's comforting to those of us who believes that his thoughts were "How can I screw the Republicans?"

Despite the reforms, the government is still keeping records of every phone call, email, and text message that it can get it's hands on. The justification is that it "keeps us safe". When pressed, the actual desire is to try to identify other terrorists once one has been identified.

There are problems with this approach. One is that it is reactive. It doesn't really keep us safe. Another is that it is too wide a net. Anyone who was ever on the phone (or exchanged emails, etc.) with a suspected terrorist becomes a suspect and possibly anyone who was ever on the phone with that person. The NSA refuses to say why people are added to no-fly lists. What if people are added because they called someone who called someone who is suspected of being a terrorist?

Given the massive amount of data collected, false positives are too likely. A recent report says that 140,000,000 text messages are collected daily.

There are other issues. The data is subject to misuse. Executive orders can be rescinded in private. The government has a spotty record on this. The IRS went after the President's political enemies under Obama and Nixon. Raw FBI files were given to Clinton political advisers. The FBI violated Martin Luther King's rights multiple ways.

The data is not particularly secure. Snowden was just a contractor but was able to access state secrets. The new proposals call for the phone companies to house this data which will make it as safe as credit cards were with Target.

All of this makes the spying hard to justify, even if it was effective. Outside audits say that it has a negligible effect. That makes it impossible to justify.

Candidate Obama promised transparency into programs like this. President Obama needs to follow up on that promise. The NSA needs to quit collecting data on the citizens of the US and of the world unless there is an actual need that has been reviewed by an accountable judiciary.

No comments: