Saturday, January 18, 2014

What was said (and what not)

Friday, January 17th President Obama finally made a speech in reaction to all the recent disclosures about NSA surveillance, etc. Full of soaring rhetoric... masking the sad reality. The blog emptywheel takes a closer look:  

"Relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded, and our capacity to repel cyber-attacks has been strengthened. Taken together, these efforts have prevented multiple attacks and saved innocent lives – not just here in the United States, but around the globe as well. And yet, in our rush to respond to very real and novel threats, the risks of government overreach – the possibility that we lose some of our core liberties in pursuit of security – became more pronounced. We saw, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, our government engaged in enhanced interrogation techniques that contradicted our values."

Obama’s use of this euphemism, EIT, is truly cowardly.

"As a Senator, I was critical of several practices, such as warrantless wiretaps. And all too often new authorities were instituted without adequate public debate."

He was also critical of bulk collection and NSLs. But somehow he doesn’t mention them here.

"Through a combination of action by the courts, increased congressional oversight, and adjustments by the previous Administration, some of the worst excesses that emerged after 9/11 were curbed by the time I took office."

This is ridiculous. All that happened under Bush is that abuses got swept under the rug and continued until 2009, when it became clear that had happened. 

"But a variety of factors have continued to complicate America’s efforts to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties. First, the same technological advances that allow U.S. intelligence agencies to pin-point an al Qaeda cell in Yemen or an email between two terrorists in the Sahel, also mean that many routine communications around the world are within our reach. At a time when more and more of our lives are digital, that prospect is disquieting for all of us." 

This is odd, in that he doesn’t mention that these communications are not only within reach, but his Administration (and Bush’s) chose to reach them. That’s the disquieting part. 

"Second, the combination of increased digital information and powerful supercomputers offers intelligence agencies the possibility of sifting through massive amounts of bulk data to identify patterns or pursue leads that may thwart impending threats. But the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse."

The Executive has been telling us they don’t do pattern analysis of the dragnet, just contact-chaining. But here he mentions pattern analysis.

"Third, the legal safeguards that restrict surveillance against U.S. persons without a warrant do not apply to foreign persons overseas."

This is disingenuous. Because in addition to foreigners getting no protection, US persons get inadequate protection given the Third Party doctrine and Administration insistence it can search any legally collected data. 

"This is not unique to America; few, if any, spy agencies around the world constrain their activities beyond their own borders. And the whole point of intelligence is to obtain information that is not publicly available. But America’s capabilities are unique. And the power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do. That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do."

These last three sentences are crucially important — and a welcome admission that almost no defenders of the NSA programs make. What makes what we do different is in part our capabilities and technical advantages, which have far greater consequences domestically and internationally.

A wonderful deconstruction of the President's speech. This is a small extract, go read the entirety at emptywheel.

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