Where's The Outrage Over The Gov't Brushing Mass Privacy Violations Under The Rug?

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Mar 11, 2010, 5:15:55 PM3/11/10
to Get FISA Right Discussion

Where's The Outrage Over The Gov't Brushing Mass Privacy Violations
Under The Rug?
from the what-a-joke dept
I have to admit that I've been a bit in shock over Congress's decision
to simply renew the Patriot Act, recently, without a single safeguard
to protect against abuse. That's because just before all this
happened, we wrote about how a report from the government found (not
for the first time) that the FBI regularly abused its authority to get
phone records it had no right to. This went well beyond earlier
reports of abusing National Security Letters. In this case, the FBI
didn't even bother with NSLs. Instead, sometimes it would just use a
post-it note. On top of that, reports came out noting that just weeks
before this report was released, the Obama administration issued a
ruling with a blanket absolution for the FBI's activities -- basically
saying that if the President said it was okay, it was fine.

This is not how our government is supposed to work.

Julian Sanchez has a fantastic article that should be a must read,
detailing how Obama went from being a candidate who insisted there
would be "no more National Security Letters to spy on citizens who are
not suspected of a crime" because "that is not who we are, and it is
not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists," to one who appears to
have no problem regularly spying on citizens and covering it up.
President Bush was really bad with warrantless wiretapping and
retroactive immunity for telcos -- and most people figured Obama would
at least be marginally better on that issue. But it's really scary how
the entirety of the federal government doesn't seem to care much about
these blatant privacy abuses -- and the public and the press has
shrugged them off as well.

Given all the reports of abuses, and Obama's campaign statements, you
would think that at least the government would put in place some kind
of oversight and safeguards when the Patriot Act came up for renewal.
No such luck. In fact, the administration appears to have worked with
Republican Senators to make this possible. I don't think this is what
people meant when they expected to see more "reaching across the
aisle" from the President:
Indeed, by the time the House Judiciary Committee took up the question
of reauthorization in early November, legislators of both parties were
venting their frustration about the scant guidance they'd gotten from
the administration.

Behind closed doors, however, the administration was anything but
silent. Instead of openly opposing civil-liberties reforms that had
been under consideration in the Senate, The New York Times reported in
October, the Obama administration opted for a kind of political
ventriloquist's routine. The Justice Department wrote a series of
amendments diluting or stripping away the new protections, then
laundered them through Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, who
offered them up verbatim.

It's worth taking a closer look at one such reform proposal -- again,
predating the latest and most damning OIG report -- to get a sense of
the disconnect between the administration's public and private
stances. Some legislators had wanted to require the FBI to develop
"minimization procedures" for NSLs, as they do when full-blown
wiretaps are employed, to ensure that information about innocents is
not circulated indiscriminately and that irrelevant records are
ultimately discarded. This would only bring NSLs in line with other
Patriot provisions compelling production of business records, where
minimization is already required, and in principle, the Justice
Department is already on board with this plan: As Inspector General
Glenn Fine noted in his testimony before the Senate in September, the
department's NSL working group was already laboring to develop such
procedures in response to the abuses documented in previous OIG
reports -- but the working group had been dragging their heels for
more than two years.

The task of blocking any legal requirement that the Justice Department
pick up the pace fell to Rep. Dan Lungren, a Republican from
California. At a House markup session in November, Lungren offered up
an amendment that would strip away the minimization mandate and even
argued, bizarrely, that the very concept of "minimization" was
inapplicable in the NSL context. He was visibly confused when
Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers, after making a point of
praising Lungren's "scrupulous study" of the issue, pointed out that
the Justice Department itself had publicly accepted the need for such

"This is the first I had heard that the Justice Department was either
considering it or had not raised any objections to this," a visibly
perplexed Lungren stammered, "because it was my understanding they
felt this was an inappropriate transfer of a process that is used in
the electronic surveillance arena." The talking points with which
Lundgren had been supplied, it seems, had not been checked against the
official assurances the department had been providing.
Sanchez's writeup goes into a lot more detail, but it's a depressing
look at today's politics, media and the public as well. Politicians
from both parties first belatedly tried to "legalize" blatantly
illegal spying on Americans, and then, when they had an immediate
opportunity to put in place the most basic safeguards because "that is
not who we are," instead conspired with each other to renew the law
and completely ignore the vast and blatant abuses of it. When you
wonder why so few people trust politicians, this is why.

Equally troubling is the fact that the story of the widespread spying
basically disappeared after a week. Sure, lots of people are focused
on the buzz du jour (healthcare, healthcare, healthcare), but how is
it that everyone is just willing to forget that our own government has
been spying on thousands of people in ways that flagrantly violate
what the law clearly states?

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