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Obama’s Mostly Meaningless NSA ‘Reforms’

President Obama gave what was billed as a very important speech on Friday that included a new presidential directive to rein in the NSA’s data mining programs and provide more safeguards for privacy. It was, predictably, a mostly meaningless collection of surface reforms that change very little.

It begins with what is little more than a few paragraphs of rhetorical jerking off about how the government’s data mining programs “must take into account that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect.” Seriously? They might as well have dropped in a few other meaningless buzzwords like “empowerment” and “synergy.” Screw dignity and respect. What I demand is that my constitutional rights be protected. That’s something concrete and specific, as opposed to these pathetic platitudes.

The one potentially meaningful reform in the directive is a requirement that the vast databases of metadata be kept not by the NSA but by a third party, yet to be identified (the president’s commission on these matters recommended that the telecom companies themselves or an independent third party archive that material). The NSA, beginning immediately, will have to ask for access to specific records on a case-by-case basis, with a warrant from the FISA court. That’s a meaningful safeguard, but not good enough.

The problem with it is that the FISA court almost never says no to a warrant and the procedures are non-adversarial. There is no one there to represent the interests of privacy or argue for the 4th Amendment, only the government. But that reform would require a new law from Congress to get done, it isn’t something that the president can order himself. So that’s at least partway to creating an important safeguard.

Comments

  1. says

    “There is no one there to represent the interests of privacy or argue for the 4th Amendment, only the government.”

    But Obama is for appointing people to act for those interests. People appointed by the government. (And, since it’s National Security*, we’ll have to be safe and only appoint people of appropriate qualifications and security clearances, eliminating all but NSA employees from consideration)

     
    * National Security, copyright 19[redacted]

  2. davefitz says

    Yeah, I laughed at the proposal that an entity other than the govt store our meta data. Hey asshat, how about no one store it or even collect it.

  3. eric says

    @2 – I think your service providers are already storing it. You know that fine print you click “I agree” on every time you get a new operating system, phone, or app? It probably includes permission to collect data on you and store it. And while they partially do it to comply with law and law enforcement requests, they would probably do it anyway because they’d want to use that information to understand purchase and use trends. Remember that for many pages and internet apps, you are not the customer, you’re the product.. As far as the corporations providing the service are concerned, the customers are the advertisers.

  4. DaveL says

    I have no problem with my phone company knowing whom I call and when – they bill me, after all. However, I still think if the government wants to have a look, it should need a warrant, not a *request*.

    The main problem I have with this idea of an “independent third party” keeping the records is this: If the government creates an entity for the specific purpose of serving a specific government interest, how independent can it really be? Who will appoint its officers? Who will fund it? Would that vaunted “independence” serve no other purpose than to dodge the laws that give us some measure of transparency in our government?

  5. eric says

    The main problem I have with this idea of an “independent third party” keeping the records is this: If the government creates an entity for the specific purpose of serving a specific government interest, how independent can it really be?

    I would not expect anything big or different. My bet is the records will stay with the service providers and there’ll be some relatively small office that is just responsible for processing requests. More than likely, they just take some pre-existing job like DCI or Secretary of Homeland Security and just add “telephone record-intelligence service intermediate” as a job duty.

    Well…actually my bet is that Obama will just keep the NSA collecting the data as long as he can get away with it. But assuming he or his successor are serious about this, that’s what I would expect as a solution.

  6. stever says

    My bet is that the NSA will continue sucking up all the data that they can find space to store. They will just do a better job of lying about it.

  7. says

    There are two problems that I see.

    The first is that the president may not have any genuine idea wtf is going on at NSA (not at all far fetched). They tell him what they WANT him to know.

    The second problem or the second part of THE problem is that once you let the genie out of the bottle, it turns into the 800 pound gorilla and when you tell it get back in the bottle, it says, “Go fuck yourself!”*.

    * Yes, that is where Dick Cheney got it.

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