After President Obama spoke to the nation last week about his plans to reform the National Security Agency and its intelligence operations, all in the name of privacy, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky mulled out loud whether he should be more or less concerned.
It was a rhetorical question, but it deserves repeating.
For those who think the answer is ‘less concerned,’ it’s time to turn the snooze alarm off. Yeah, we know, you don’t have anything to hide, except your ignorance. Wake up and smell the gulag.
The answer is ‘more concerned,’ obviously. Consider that the president wants to continue collecting the metadata of every American’s phone calls, only now, to prevent abuse, he’s going to give the information about our private lives to a third party for safekeeping. Not that that’s needed, you know, because the NSA is populated by neighbors, friends, and family: Patriots, the president said.
Neighbors? Really? Think about your neighbors. Let’s say you have some important financial information in your house you need to protect, but there’s a live-in in-law snooping around, an in-law who happens to despise you because you exist. Are you really going to feel good about giving it to the next-door neighbor for safekeeping, especially when you know she works for the NSA?
The simple truth is, the more entities handling the data, the more likely a breach will occur. Right now, the government collects it, handles it, houses it. Bad enough, but, under Mr. Obama’s scenario, the government would collect it, handle it and then give it to others to handle and house. Scary.
What’s more, since we are talking about government data, whatever entity is selected to keep the data will automatically become an arm of the federal government for that express purpose, and such an entity will be obligated to hand over any data requested anyway.
OK, we’re right back where we started, so so much for the hocus pocus. It doesn’t matter where the information is kept. The core question, as Paul and other libertarians have posed, is: what right does the government have to collect it in the first place?
Answer: None. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from random group searches, and that is what this collection of data is by its very definition. Constitutionally, an individualized warrant is needed to collect anybody’s data, meta or not.
As Paul said, this is nothing more than the same unconstitutional program in a different configuration.
Just as troubling, and perhaps more so in the long run, is the president’s cavalier attitude toward the constitution. First, Mr. Obama mocks it by cloaking his words in its guarantees as he describes his plans to strip us of those very rights.
Then the president uses his speech as an opportunity to proclaim the supremacy – no, the hegemony – of the executive branch of government. Over everything. Over Congress. Over the courts. Over the constitution. Over errant selfies. Everything.
Throughout the speech the president tells us what he is ordering to be done, all without consulting Congress. He tells us he has approved a new presidential directive for intelligence activities. He tells us his guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of those activities. But what about legislative oversight? Mr. Obama could give a rip about legislative oversight, apparently.
He tells us he is directing his attorney general to institute additional restrictions on government’s ability to retain, search and use communications between Americans and foreign citizens. What about congressional input on those restrictions?
The president tells us he is making unilateral changes to the bulk data collection program specifically, and that “during this transition period” the database can be queried only after a judicial finding or in an emergency, But what about after the transition period?
As if the foregoing isn’t enough, Mr. Obama has decided he is single-handedly going to remake the United States government in his own image: “Finally, to make sure that we follow through on all these reforms, I’m making some important changes to how our government is organized,” he said.
Among the things he wants is yet another unconstitutional policy czar – a senior official at the White House to implement his new privacy safeguards. Of course, such White House minders of policy can be shielded by presidential executive privilege, yet another way the president’s national security apparatus can evade congressional oversight.
If not, try this to get you in the mood. The two biggest NSA establishment pimps in the world – Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee – praised the president’s defense of spying on the American people, you know, on family, friends and neighbors.
Not concerned yet?
Well, let’s discuss some of the reforms Mr. Obama didn’t address, or didn’t propose to change, in his presser. FBI agents rather than judges will still issue national security letters – letters used to demand information in the name of “homeland” interests – the federal government is still intent on savaging Internet encryption networks, and, as the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez points out, the bulk data program can collect a lot more than just the records of phone calls, such as the bulk collection of medical and financial records.
The bottom line is, the president of the United States does not intend to change one substantive aspect of the national security apparatus as it pertains to the bulk collection of data about innocent Americans, and that is the central issue at stake. What’s more, the president intends to act unilaterally, as he increasingly does these days, safe under the cover of the friendly state-run media.
As it turns out, this is a quintessential example of the New Bossism I have written about before. In the old days, the party bosses of the political class forged deals with special-interest unions and identity groups and with crony capitalists to form the Old Bossism of the Democratic Party; these days the bureaucratic managers, so well insulated from elected officials, are the ones making back-room deals with crony capitalists and other special interests, protected by another powerful special interest, the heavily subsidized state-run media.
Government bureaucracies replaced party bosses in the back rooms, and the state-run media replaced the special-interest unions and identity groups. The crony capitalists are still there, only their faces have changed.
And that is what we have here. A powerful national security bureaucracy, the state-run media, and scores of global technology and telecommunications companies that stand to profit from the spying – all this forms a classic example of the New Bossism.
The only irony is that the elected leader of this machine, Barack Obama, actually functions more like a bureaucrat than as an elected leader. He is remaking the government in the image of the New Bossism, at a furious pace.
Indeed, we might paraphrase the president from a line in his NSA speech:
“When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed,” Mr. Obama said.
We might say:
“When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to our constitutional principles in a world in which government is remaking itself – and us – at dizzying speed.”
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org