President Obama’s claim that he welcomes the debate over the NSA’s activities and planned to have one but that he objects to the fact that Edward Snowden revealed the things that he supposedly wants to discuss was obviously a lie. Does anyone seriously think that in the absence of Snowden, Obama would have one day voluntarily told the public what has been going on?
Max Ehrenfreund adds an interesting insight. He points out that much of this debate that Obama supposedly desires has already occurred and some of the measures had already been formally discussed and rejected by Congress.
The government’s surveillance policies are nonetheless indefensible because collectively, we have already decided, twice, that we oppose them. In a democracy, the government does not have the authority make decisions about the shape of a society independently of public opinion, even if those decisions are justified. The New York Times reports that the NSA has ignored this fundamental principle:
Paul Kocher, a leading cryptographer who helped design the SSL protocol, recalled how the N.S.A. lost the heated national debate in the 1990s about inserting into all encryption a government back door called the Clipper Chip.
“And they went and did it anyway, without telling anyone,” Mr. Kocher said.
Likewise, Congress rejected a Bush administration proposal for a program called “Total Information Awareness,” which the surveillance apparatus then established anyway in secret. That was the program that became PRISM.
So it looks like the secret government that we have does what it damn well pleases irrespective of what the public government says it can or cannot do. It looks like in addition to the three branches of the government enumerated in the US constitution, we also have a fourth branch, the secret government. But whereas the other three are supposedly co-equal, it is clear that this one is supreme.
This has been another episode on my multi-part series, called “That’s democracy, baby!”