Obama’s white paper on NSA spying

I'm Watermark

The Obama administration released a “white paper” on Friday that purports to provide a legal justification for one of its telephone surveillance programs. Under conditions of growing public concern over revelations by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, the document was clearly prepared for public relations purposes. Its release was timed to coincide with Friday’s press conference, at which Obama attempted to put a friendly face on police state spying.

As with all of the arguments marshaled by the government to justify its unconstitutional actions, the white paper begins with the desired conclusion—that mass surveillance of the American people is legal—and works backwards, stringing together whatever rationalizations its authors can come up with. In this it recalls White House lawyers’ previous handiwork on the subjects of drone assassinations, torture and indefinite detention.

In this case, the program in question, based on the Patriot Act, involves the collection of “telephony metadata”—including the originator of the call, the number dialed, and the date and time—on nearly every individual in the United States. With this information, the government can determine in great detail the social and political affiliations of individuals. Such a mass seizure of personal records, without specific warrants, is in flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, which protects “against unreasonable searches and seizures” and prohibits searches without narrowly defined warrants based on probable cause.

The arguments advanced by the white paper are in conflict not only with the letter of the Constitution, but its entire spirit. The revolutionary framers of the document started with the premise that the state represented a permanent danger to the liberties of the people, requiring “eternal vigilance” and a spirit of collective distrust. Accordingly, they established numerous mechanisms for protecting the people from the government, including by limiting and enumerating government powers, establishing a system of checks and balances, and passing a Bill of Rights.

The basic conceptions advanced by the Obama administration start from diametrically opposed premises. The state is elevated above the people and their—in the words of the Declaration of Independence—“unalienable rights.” Its interests, generally summed up with the phrase “national security,” trump the individual liberties of the people.

The sophistic arguments advanced in the white paper largely boil down to the injunction: “Trust us.” Trust the NSA, trust the FBI, trust the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, trust the White House. The American people, the document advises, should rest assured that the executive branch and the star chamber FISA court ensure “strict oversight standards to guard against any potential for misuse of the data” the NSA collects.[/QUOTE]