President Barack Obama’s support for the NSA’s domestic spying program prompted a critic to say: “Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: ‘Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect.'”
Oh wait, that wasn’t a critic speaking — it was Obama himself. In January, he tried to shush critics by insisting that the threadbare slipcover of reforms he was throwing over the massive spy machine should convince us that all is well. So please, people, just go back to sleep.
Less than a week later, however, a blaring alarm went off in Washington, shattering any drowsiness that Obama had hoped to induce. The alert came from a small, little-known federal agency called the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, set up by Congress back in 2007 to be an independent monitor of the spook establishment’s privacy infringements.
In a stunningly blunt 238-page report, the five-member panel of legal experts concluded that NSA’s bulk data collection is illegal, probably unconstitutional under the First and Fourth Amendments, a serious, ongoing threat to Americans’ privacy and liberties, and essentially useless at stopping terrorist acts.
“As a result,” wrote the panel’s majority, “the board recommends that the government end the program.”
Especially telling is the finding that NSA’s invasive phone sweeps constitute an ineffectual anti-terrorism tool. The agency and its apologists keep claiming — without any proof — that total vacuuming of domestic communications is necessary to prevent the next 9/11 attack.
But the privacy panel did an in-depth analysis of this repeated assertion, and wrote: “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference.”
OtherWords commentaries are free to re-publish in print and online — all it takes is a simple attribution to OtherWords.org. To get a roundup of our work each Wednesday, sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.