Thursday, April 5, 2012

Meet the New Boss: Obama and Domestic Spying

I'm your new boss. I'm SO happy to see you!!!
One of the most intriguing things about human nature is how we respond to surface changes while the substantive policy remains the same. In short, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

In New York City for example former Mayor Rudy Giuliani made no pretense of having much use for the black community or so-called black leaders. Under his leadership the NYPD was unleashed to harass and search black and Hispanic citizens, primarily men or boys, who could literally just be walking down the street minding their own business. Occasionally this aggressive attitude would lead to brutal or even deadly uses of force on citizens. People were outraged. They marched, protested and called the snarling churlish lisping Giuliani all sorts of nasty names.

Enter Mayor Bloomberg. Bloomberg is a "feel your pain" kind of guy. He's (usually) articulate, soft spoken, reasonable and can insult you in such a nice way that you'll thank him for doing so. He had no problem meeting with black leaders and making the requisite noises of regret any time there was a questionable NYPD incident. But the underlying policy of stop and frisk, agitate and intimidate wasn't changed. If anything, it expanded. But because Bloomberg's surface persona was much more pleasant than that of the belligerent Giuliani, much of the public controversy over police stops initially subsided. Now, however, thanks to Commissioner Kelly's pugnacity and the aggressiveness of the NYPD in crossing jurisdictional and legal lines, people may finally be starting to resist and fight back.

There's a lesson there. You may recall the Total Information Awareness Program that was aborted under then President Bush. Democrats and civil libertarians all of stripes raged against this in editorials. They thundered against it in on the airwaves. They called it creeping fascism. So the program was "dropped". Soon afterwards Hope and Change arrived.

And then people went back to sleep, content that they had stopped this wicked idea dead in its tracks. But much like the Terminator or the car Christine, ideas like this don't die. They just slowly and patiently rebuild themselves until they are reborn. Now they might have a modified name or use slightly different people as fronts. But that's all window dressing. The bottom line is government is " like fire, a handy servant but a dangerous master". The government will now be storing information on you for five years. The previous limit was 180 days.
The U.S. intelligence community can now store information on innocent Americans for up to five years under new Obama administration rules, expanding previous authority to hold details on individuals with no ties to terrorism.
The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was previously supposed to immediately destroy intelligence information about Americans when there were no clear ties to terrorism, but now new rules that basically justify spying on innocent Americans are being justified by terrorism fear-mongers.
But wait there's more!!! Behind door number two we have this prize for you!
NERMEEN SHAIKH: A new exposé in Wired Magazine has revealed new details about how the National Security Agency is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah, as part of a secret NSA surveillance program codenamed "Stellar Wind." According to investigative reporter James Bamford, the NSA has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. The Utah spy center will contain near-bottomless databases to store all forms of communication collected by the agency. This includes the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases and other digital "pocket litter."

AMY GOODMAN: In addition, the NSA has also created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. James Bamford writes the secret surveillance program "is, in some measure, the realization of the 'total information awareness' program created during the first term of the Bush administration," but later killed by Congress in 2003 due to privacy concerns and public outcry.
Do you get this? EVERYTHING that you communicate electronically, everything that shows who you are, what you read, where you go each day, what sorts of purchases you make, etc is being gathered up in databases where it will be perused and sifted through by government agents.
Now how is this possible if we have a Democratic President, one that taught constitutional law, someone who theoretically has an understanding of the Bill of Rights, of privacy, of individual rights?

It's possible because the neither the Republicans nor Democrats have any real commitment to or understanding of the Bill of Rights. Sure both sides will mouth pious platitudes to certain constitutional guarantees when they are important for some other purpose or to a favored interest group (Republicans and the gun lobby or Democrats and the abortion lobby) but ultimately neither side could give a mosquito's tweeter about the Bill of Rights as a general limitation on the executive branch's ability to investigate, monitor, arrest or compel behavior by the individual. The current President may not have southern swagger or Texas twang or other characteristics or behavior patterns which some progressives didn't like. But when it comes to civil liberties, make no mistake, President Obama is just as dangerous as any right-wing zealot and perhaps more so. Too many people are willing to give him a pass on things they never would have tolerated from President Bush. For example, that recent Supreme Court decision that allowed strip searches of all people arrested, even those arrested for minor non-violent offenses, was supported by the Obama Administration. This cartoon puts it perfectly.

If the below bill were to be proposed today as is with no other changes I don't think it would get passed. I think that Republicans would openly oppose it as a law which protected terrorists. Democrats might say (in front of the cameras) it was a good idea in theory but in practice (once behind closed doors) would carve out so many exceptions while CLAIMING they supported the law that even if passed it would be meaningless.
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.

What's your take?
Are you bothered by the government gathering information on you?
If Republicans were doing this would we have heard more outcry?

Why aren't civil liberties important to more people? 
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