Obama’s Empty Surveillance Promises, Take 2

I wrote the other day that the promises that President Obama made last week about greater transparency were mostly hollow, especially the appointment of a commission to study the problem. Such commission are a political black hole. But it turns out that his “independent” commission won’t be independent at all:
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A New Way to Leak

With the Obama administration’s furious war against whistleblowers who reveal abuses and illegality by the government, especially the executive branch, the New Yorker is rolling out a new way for sources to turn over incriminating evidence that the public should know about. It was coded by the last Aaron Swartz, the open-source crusader who committed suicide a few months ago.
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Is the Seizure of AP Phone Records a Scandal?

There’s an interesting debate going on at the Volokh Conspiracy over whether the story about the DOJ seizing phone records of innumerable AP reporters and editors is a real story or not. Orin Kerr, who is a libertarian-leaning law professor and therefore generally likely to oppose unnecessary searches and seizures, declares it a non-story at this point:
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The Danger of the Daniel Manning Prosecution

Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor and one of the expert witnesses in the Bradley Manning case, has a long and very compelling article in the New Republic about the dangers of that prosecution and how it is being pursued primarily as a deterrent to future whistleblowers. I found this passage particularly prescient:
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Obama Allowed to Keep Drone Rationale Secret

The Obama administration’s efforts to keep every tiny detail of its actions in the war on terror secret continues to succeed in court and has now been extended even further. A federal judge has ruled that the administration doesn’t even have to reveal the legal basis for the drone strikes it uses so often. You can read the full ruling here. David Kravets has a report at Wired.
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The Most Transparent Administration in History Strikes Again

Yet another example of the Obama administration — you know, the promised “most transparent administration in history” — using legal procedures to fight against actual transparency in court. A court has allowed them to continue to pretend that documents that were already made public are still so secret that they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The ACLU reports:
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Bad Arguments for Government Secrecy

Spencer Ackerman has a list of the five worst arguments ever offered by the government to justify keeping its most egregious misdeeds secret. It includes last week’s claim by the NSA that it would violate the privacy of those whose privacy they violated if they were to reveal how many people’s privacy was violated. It also includes this one:
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The Obama Administration’s Weird Definition of Privacy

My former colleague Spencer Ackerman got his hands on a deeply ironic letter written by the NSA to two senators, in which the agency claims that they can’t tell them how many people have been targeted for surveillance because that would violate the privacy of those who were targeted. I wish I was kidding.
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Obama’s False Promise of Transparency

Remember when President Obama promised, on his very first day in office, to have the most transparent administration in history? The reality has been quite the contrary and here’s yet another example. In response to a FOIA request for Bush-era legal document on the president’s authority to make recess appointments, the DOJ redacted well over 90% of the document. You can view the redacted document here.
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Warren Mayor Lies About FOIA Concerns

In my experience filing many Freedom of Information Act requests, some government agencies are much better than others. Some do their best to comply with the law and provide the information requested; others do everything they can to delay and deny such requests. The mayor of Warren, Jim Fouts, is a great example of the latter. Jeff Wattrick, a longtime Michigan journalist, put in a FOIA request for communications between Fouts and others in his administration about FOIA requests and found that he’s essentially been lying about the issue.
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