Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nixon [whispers] and Obama [back to loud] and Surveillance

There’s a new video out there by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others urging commoners to get very, very upset about warrantless surveillance being conducted by the National Security Agency that, at first reading, left me very confused.

“We’ve seen this before,” says Daniel Ellensberg, whistleblower from the Rand Corporation who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.
Then, yes, we get to see Tricky Dick, in glorious black and white, cued along with sinister music.
And that’s it. More black-and-whites of the left’s favorite punching bag. But no context. Just the assumption that since the left regards Nixon as a villain, the EFF’s audience for this video – and just might who that be but perhaps the youngsters who will swallow it all without bothering to look for any historical context  – will know what connection Nixon has to warrantless surveillance. (Meanwhile, no sinister photos, black and white or otherwise, of Barack Obama, the current president currently presiding over the current surveillance dragnet we’re supposed to be upset about.)
Here’s where I say: Don’t get me wrong. Nixon was, in many ways, a villain. His administration’s prosecution of Ellensberg and its attempted prohibition on publication of the Pentagon Papers were wrong. That he was impeached and resigned over the subsequent Watergate investigation, in which paid White House spies tried to bug the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters is justified.
But making Nixon the sole identified villain in warrantless surveillance is, at the foundation of the argument, wrong. To make the accusation fair, we ought to be seeing black and white photos of Messrs. George W. Bush and Obama, along with their own creepy music, right alongside those of Tricky Dick. Leaving them out of the video effectively gives them a pass and fails to connect today’s younger audience, to whom Nixon is a historical figure they may have read about in the textbooks, with current administration abuses and rationalizations for continued abuse.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which has led to current surveillance abuses, started first during the Bush Administration and continued by the Obama administration came into being as a result of Nixon’s abuses of the Fourth Amendment as his administration pursued enemies using government entities (abuses also proved against Nixon predecessors Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy). The act was sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (featured in the EFF video) in 1977 and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the act has been amended and/or extended a few times. And abused many times, including by the White House’s Current Occupant.
But, of course, what was done by Bush and what is being done by Obama is all for our own good, you see:
Once a critic of President George W. Bush’s hawkish policies, Mr. Obama was ready with an explanation for why he has preserved and extended some of them when a reporter asked him at the health care event if he could assure Americans that the government was not building a database of their personal information. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not what this program’s about.”
But he argued that “modest encroachments on privacy” were “worth us doing” to protect the country, and he said that Congress and the courts had authorized those programs.
A National Security Agency telephone surveillance program collects phone numbers and the duration of calls, not the content, he said. An Internet surveillance program targets foreigners living abroad, not Americans, he added.
“There are some trade-offs involved,” Mr. Obama said. “I came with a healthy skepticism about these programs. My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly.” In the end, he concluded that “they help us prevent terrorist attacks.”
That makes me feel all warm inside. “Nobody is listening to [our] telephone calls,” Obama says. “That’s not what this program’s about.”
My, my, my. Are we supposed to believe that? If it were Nixon saying, it, no way. But apparently, as far as the EFF and its supporters are concerned, President Obama gets a pass as long as we’ve got Dick Nixon to kick around. So, EFF, and Ellensberg, and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Wil Wheaton, as you deliver proper umbrage over the surveillance state, be sure you’re not protecting anyone. Not even your bestest of best buddies.
What Nixon did was terrible. What has continued in the name of warrantless surveillance today is unpardonable (Hear that, Gerald Ford?). Leaving Bush and Obama out of the picture is like condemning the common cold without talking about the Spanish Flu.
We have this today from Georg Mascolo and Ben Scott at
[W]e’re left to confront was may be [Edward Snowden’s] most dismaying revelation: That basic expectation of private communications on the Internet is now commonly seen a fiction.
Also, per Mascolo and Scott, those foreign governments raising proper umbrage over US surveillance, are you prepared to come clean with the kinds of snooping y’all are doing? (Hear that, Germany and Brazil?) Glass houses, and all, folks. Glass houses.
Mascolo and Scott conclude their screed by saying this, and I echo what they say: “[J]ust as President Obama has declared his intention to end the war on terror, he should also take a strong interest in lending an effort to reset his policies on surveillance to restore the balance between security and liberty – and in so doing, restore some of the trust the Internet has lost.”

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