The Ever Expanding Security State
Here’s what I wrote on the eve of the 2008 presidential election:
Vote Obama/Biden for President of the United States tomorrow. I am under no illusion that Barack Obama is going to be some transcendent politician so I don't plan on being disappointed by his presidency. I voted for Clinton in the primaries because she had a better health care policy. Obama's is worse than Clinton's but light years ahead of McCain's. He's more apt to try to get us out of Iraq in a reasonable time frame than McCain, even if that is going to be tough to execute. He's said he'll run a sensible foreign policy where we open the lines of communication with our adversaries. I don't know what else to tell you. I'm not going to say he's perfect in every way but he's acceptable to me and he's definitely a better candidate than McCain.
And yet, I’m still disappointed.

The most disturbing aspect about the recent revelations of the extent of domestic surveillance in the United States is that all of it is legal. It’s not like the NSA warrantless wiretapping or torture by the CIA - programs that were clearly illegal. What Obama has disappointingly done is take existing law and stretched uncomfortably far.

Let's look at what we know. In its leak investigation the Department of Justice had a subpoena for obtaining the phone records of AP journalists and a warrant for tracking Fox News journalist James Rosen. There is no shield law at the federal level to protect journalists and their sources. The NSA’s collection of Verizon phone records is based on provisions in the Patriot Act and was approved by the FISA court. But of course, the FISA court has always been a complete joke.
And, and was totally predictable, the court barely ever rejected a government request for eavesdropping. From its inception, it was the ultimate rubber-stamp court, having rejected a total of zero government applications - zero - in its first 24 years of existence, while approving many thousands. In its total 34 year history - from 1978 through 2012 - the Fisa court has rejected a grand total of 11 government applications, while approving more than 20,000.
And then there’s PRISM, a program that apparently lets the NSA tap into the servers of major internet companies. Yep, legal.
The Protect America Act of 2007 made it possible for targets to be electronically surveilled without a warrant if they were "reasonably believed" to be foreign. That's where that 51% comes in. It was followed by the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which immunized companies from legal harm for handing information over to the government. And that's the one-two punch that gives PRISM full legal standing.
This is why it is so important to respect the 4th Amendment like we do the 1st and 2nd and to stop these programs before they start. America was scared after 9/11 and so the 4th Amendment was sacrificed to allay those fears. It’s time to stop and realize that we went too far. To quote myself again:
Government never gives up a power you cede it. Barack Obama, despite all this talk of change, is not going to give up powers that might help him stop a terrorist attack even if they curtail civil liberties. Even if, like torture, the power actually harms our ability to stop terrorist attacks, he won't give it up. If a terrorist attack happens after that power was given up then guess what everybody who doesn't realize that correlation does not equal causation is going to blame the attack on? ... Give government a power and it will get abused.
Maybe it’s not "abuse" in this case, but it’s more than we expect or want our government to do, even if it "isn't anything that is brand new", as Harry Reid puts it. Obama has little incentive to renounce these policies or deny any intelligence agency the ability to use them. And Congress has long since abdicated any responsibility it has to protect our security or our civil liberties, opting instead to continually strengthen the presidency. It’s easier for Obama to go back on campaign promises and continue down the path of the Bush administration post-9/11 because there is no political price to pay for doing so. This is not to immunize him from criticism. These programs reduce our civil liberties. I oppose them and I disapprove of Obama and company for implementing them or letting them happen. It makes him a worse president in my eyes.

But it’s clear that this is not a Democrat vs. Republican issue. There is no political price to be paid because both sides support this because that’s what the American people want. There is not a large enough constituency of people who will put civil liberties first to give pause to politicians who broaden and strengthen the security state. We care about our safety, but we do not temper that against our liberties until the other side does it, and even then not so much.

A side note: I’ve been stopping myself from taking this opportunity to call bullshit on my conservative friends. Yes, many cheered these policies under Bush. Honestly though, I’ve long tired of the hypocrisy charge. I find it lazy, though I admit it can be fun and I’m not completely above. I’m concerned about the issues involved. So if you’re here to criticize Obama and Eric Holder I had better hear a denunciation of the policies, not just the men. If you do, then we agree. Otherwise, save it for when your favorite radio call-in show finally takes your call. The scandal is not that Obama is a hypocrite, it’s what we have allowed him and our government to do.

Along those lines, let me quote my 2008 self again. The Obama administration needs to be brought to task for this:
Let me just say this: It would be a shame to waste this historic occasion. If we do not hold Obama to his promises we will have wasted it. Not only will we not get what we want (and even if we do try to hold him to it there are going to be things we will be disappointed's going to happen) but Obama will be tagged as some sort of affirmative action President by his critics. The liberals just wanted a black president and didn't care what he did. Don't let this happen. If he screws up call him on it. That's how our ideas remain strong. That's how our democracy remains strong.
You can’t compare the Obama administration to administrations we’ve never elected (McCain, Romney). I still think things would be worse in terms of civil liberties if we had elected the Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Things are hot right now, but if you take a sober look at it, I think Obama still comes out ahead of Bush as well. Implementing new restrictions on civil liberties hurts more than extending existing ones. Then again, we’re only 5 years into Obama’s term. I think comparing Bush to Obama is a good exercise, but I’m not really interested in doing that right now. It’s important to go back and evaluate your decisions, but that comparison right now sounds too much like rationalizing and making ourselves feel better about a flawed choice. Obama is the president and it’s his actions that are hurting civil liberties. We should be looking to stop those right now.
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