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Senator Obama Warned About PATRIOT Act Abuses That Happened Under President Obama

Obama Eyes Closed

Timothy Lee notes that, when he was a Senator, Barack Obama had plenty to say about the dangers of those provisions of the PATRIOT Act that have served as the basis for the NSA surveillance programs that we’ve earned about over the past two months:

In December 2005, Congress was debating the first re-authorization of the Patriot Act, a controversial 2001 law that gave the federal government expanded power to spy on Americans. And Barack Obama was one of nine senators who signed a letter criticizing the then-current version of the legislation for providing insufficient protections for civil liberties.

The senators focused on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to obtain “business records” that are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation. Sen. Obama and eight of his colleagues worried that the provision would “allow government fishing expeditions targeting innocent Americans. We believe the government should be required to convince a judge that the records they are seeking have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy.”

Congress eventually re-authorized the Patriot Act, including Section 215. A few years later, Obama was elected president of the United States. And under President Obama’s watch, the NSA engaged in surveillance suspiciously similar to the broad “fishing expeditions” Sen. Obama warned about.

The government has argued that records of every phone call made in the United States are “relevant” to counter-terrorism investigations generally, allowing them to obtain information about the private phone calls of millions of Americans — exactly the kind of argument Sen. Obama warned the government would make if the language of Section 215 wasn’t tightened.

Sen. Obama and his colleagues also objected to the lack of transparency and due process in Section 215. “The target of a Section 215 order never receives notice that the government has obtained his sensitive personal information and never has an opportunity to challenge the use of this information in a trial or other proceeding,” they wrote.

Again, this prediction proved prescient. In 2012, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the NSA for a “ballpark estimate” of the number of Americans who had been subject to NSA surveillance. The NSA refused, claiming that revealing the number would violate the targets’ privacy. We now know that the figure was in the hundreds of millions. And prior to NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s disclosures, none of them received notice of the surveillance or an opportunity to challenge it in court.

Quite obviously, as Lee notes, Senator Obama changed his perspective on these matters when he became President Obama. On some level, I suppose, this is understandable because as Senator he wasn’t nearly as much intelligence as a President receives on a daily basis. Even as a Presidential candidate, he likely wasn’t read into the most sensitive reports that cross a President’s desk on a daily basis. None of that would have been provided him until he was actually elected President and, indeed, there were reports after President-elect Obama received his first full briefing in Chicago just days after the 2008 election that he was somewhat overwhelmed by some of the information that had been provided regarding threats to the United States by various terrorist groups.

None of that, however, undercuts the legitimacy of the concerns that Obama raised about surveillance programs when he was a Senator. As we’ve seen over the past two months, the concerns that he and others races nearly eight years ago were not only well-placed, they were prescient. The NSA has indeed gone on “fishing expeditions” of dubious intelligence value that quite arguably have done real harm to the privacy rights of millions of innocent Americans. In the meantime, the American people are being told by those in power that we simply need to trust them to do the right thing and stop asking questions. The warnings that Senator Obama gave have proven to be correct.  Too bad President Obama hasn’t listened more to Senator Obama, I suppose.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. In 2008, two Senators were competing against each other for President (and a third almost received her party’s nomination). I don’t know their specific committee assignments, but I wonder how much any of them knew about what was going on.

    This is counter to the thinking of former President Ford, who was convinced that in the late 1970s, too many people in Congress knew too much. When he was in Congress, certain things were kept quiet and were only known by a few in the leadership. By 1975, by Ford’s perspective, everyone knew our secrets and things were leaked all over the place. By the time Carter came in power – again according to Ford – there weren’t any secrets.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Again, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to information that you pass to third party providers in order to effect transactions in the course of doing business with them. That has been operative precedent in this country for almost 40 years now.

    Petitioner in all probability entertained no actual expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialed, and even if he did, his expectation was not “legitimate.” First, it is doubtful that telephone users in general have any expectation of privacy regarding the numbers they dial, since they typically know that they must convey phone numbers to the telephone company and that the company has facilities for recording this information and does in fact record it for various legitimate business purposes. And petitioner did not demonstrate an expectation of privacy merely by using his home phone rather than some other phone, since his conduct, although perhaps calculated to keep the contents of his conversation private, was not calculated to preserve the privacy of the number he dialed. Second, even if petitioner did harbor some subjective expectation of privacy, this expectation was not one that society is prepared to recognize as “reasonable.” When petitioner voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the phone company and “exposed” that information to its equipment in the normal course of business, he assumed the risk that the company would reveal the information to the police. Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979)

    and

    There is no legitimate “expectation of privacy” in the contents of the original checks and deposit slips, since the checks are not confidential communications but negotiable instruments to be used in commercial transactions, and all the documents obtained contain only information voluntarily conveyed to the banks and exposed to their employees in the ordinary course of business. The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party and conveyed by him to Government authorities. The Act’s recordkeeping requirements do not alter these considerations so as to create a protectable Fourth Amendment interest of a bank depositor in the bank’s records of his account. U.S. v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976)

    and

    Issuance of a subpoena to a third party does not violate a defendant’s rights, even if a criminal prosecution is contemplated at the time the subpoena is issued. California Bankers Assn. v. Shultz, 416 U.S. 21 (1974)

    It should be quite clear to anyone taking the time to do the homework that there is no expectation of privacy inherent in information voluntarily conveyed to a third party and contained in that third party’s business records, EVEN IF the conveyor acted in the belief that there was such an expectation. If such an expectation is to be enjoyed, it must be created by statute, since it is clearly (per the court) beyond the scope of the rights enumerated in the 4th Amendment. Congress has not, to my knowledge, chosen to do so. In fact, it has acted to legislate into statute the premise laid down by the court. (Title III, Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986)

    Banging the civil liberties drum about imagined privacy rights does not create some justiciable 4th Amendment cause of action where the court has held, repeatedly, that no such cause exists. Enough already.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  3. James Pearce says:

    Heavy weighs the crown. Low hangs the head who wears it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  4. stonetools says:

    We believe the government should be required to convince a judge that the records they are seeking have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy.”

    Seems the current regime IS in conformance with Senator Obama’s vision. Back under Bush, there was no warrant requirement for Section 215 searches directed to a particular target.

    Meanwhile, in the real world:

    Fresh intelligence led the United States to conclude that operatives of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were in the final stages of planning an attack against U.S. and Western targets, several U.S. officials told CNN.

    The warning led the U.S. State Department to issue a global travel alert Friday, warning al Qaeda may launch attacks in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond in coming weeks. The U.S. government also was preparing to close 22 embassies and consulates in the region Sunday as a precaution.

    The chatter among al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operatives had gone on for weeks but increased in the last few days, the officials said.

    Let’s face it, if al Qaeda bombs an embassy or somewhere in the USA and kills a hundred people, nobody will give a flying f#$k about any of this Section 215 stuff , and the Republicans, including libertarian hero Rand Paul, would be calling for Obama’s head on a pike for “letting the terrorists win.”
    That reality has probably what’s changed Obama’s perspective a little. Let’s face it, a handful of civil libertarians are concerned about this Section 215 stuff and are OK with letting a terrorist attack or two through in order to preserve the privacy of their phone metadata. The rest of the USA wants the terrorists stopped, phone metadata be damned. President Obama sees this in a way that Senator Obama didn’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  5. edmondo says:

    Doug,

    Read your own comments section and learn something! It’s not abuse if a Democrat does it. Nor is it bribery nor malfeasance nor corruption nor abuse of power.

    I can hardly wait until a Republican gets back in the White House so the Democrats will grow a spine and start calling out this shit.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 14

  6. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @edmondo:

    Oh for god’s sake, shut up with the partisan whining already.

    It’s been constitutional under Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama, ALL of whom have done it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 3

  7. Jack says:

    There’s only problems with the Patriot Act when a Republican President is in the white house, otherwise the MSM doesn’t care. Just like they stopped the daily counting of bodies as soon as Obozo took office.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 14

  8. bill says:

    is that the same guy who said our deficits were un-American? guess he had us all fooled…..well, not all of us. anyhow, this can’t be a story in the msm as it hasn’t been approved by the admin yet, and never will be.
    well, it’s sunny outside- pool time!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

  9. James Pearce says:

    @Jack:

    otherwise the MSM doesn’t care.

    What is this, 2001? Are we going to have to listen to this “Mainstream Media” stuff in perpetuity? Or can we finally acknowledge that Glenn Reynold’s blog did not put CNN out of business?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. michael reynolds says:

    A short list of people we don’t mind pawing through our data:

    Verizon
    AT&T
    Google
    Yahoo
    Microsoft
    Apple
    Facebook
    MasterCard
    Visa
    American Express
    Amazon
    Credit rating agencies
    Banks
    Retailers

    A short list of people we do mind pawing through our data:

    The US Government.

    Because?

    Is it because private industry employs only people who would never blackmail or embarrass or rob us?

    Is it because the profits of a handful of millionaires are sacrosanct while the government’s desire to thwart terror attacks is somehow suspicious?

    Paranoia. That’s why. We’ve been well-conditioned to suspect the government. Based on? Based on very little, really, at least in recent history. We are further than ever from Big Brother and the Orwellian super-state stamping on a human face forever. Not going to happen. The whole idea was just a massive fail.

    People are fighting the last (imaginary) war, not getting that the (imaginary) era of total state domination is over. The Nazis? Gone. They lasted a decade. The Communists? They’re in Cuba. They lasted 70 years. The USSR? Died broke and drunk. The PRC? Makes our phones and spawns millionaires.

    Because we all read Orwell in school, we now propose to deny information to our government that is already in the possession of dozens of businesses. The only ones we propose to keep in the dark, are the guys trying to keep us from getting killed.

    Brilliant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  11. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Were he still in the Senate, Senator Obama would be calling for the impeachment of President Obama.

    Which would be entirely typical, as it’s the House that impeaches, not the Senate — meaning that Senator Obama’s calls would be completely meaningless.

    Someone ought to assemble a list of things that Senator Obama found objectionable that President Obama has done. My personal favorite is his argument against raising the debt ceiling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 12

  12. al-Ameda says:

    @edmondo:

    I can hardly wait until a Republican gets back in the White House so the Democrats will grow a spine and start calling out this shit.

    On the other hand, I hope a Republican is never voted to the White House again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  13. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Were he still in the Senate, Senator Obama would be calling for the impeachment of President Obama.

    Interesting, because when he was a senator, Barack Obama did not once call for the impeachment of President Bush. Clearly, only Republicans view impeachment cavalierly, and use it indiscriminately..

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 2

  14. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Were he still in the Senate, Senator Obama would be calling for the impeachment of President Obama.

    Seriously……you guys need to stop telling yourself that these are two different people. Senator Obama became President Obama. They are the same person. He has more information and different responsibilities and yet you’d have him act like he’s back in Chicago, voting on bills? That makes no sense.

    And let’s face it, neither you nor Doug supported this fictional “Senator Obama” back then and you don’t support President Obama now. So while we find your nostalgia touching, it’s also transparently bogus.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 2

  15. superdestroyer says:

    @edmondo:

    One of the reasons that the Democrats are taking the positions that they are is that realize that the Republicans will never be in the White House again. Every demographic trends is going in the Democrats favor. The Democrats want more power because as the U.S. becomes a one party state, the Democrats want to use the government to reward their friends and punish those that they perceive as their enemies. When the Democrats going on a weekly two minute hate, having the information gathered by the government will be every useful.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 10

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  17. bill says:

    @al-Ameda: as long as they hold one of the other houses it’s all good- they actually get things done, or not done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  18. An Interested Party says:

    When the Democrats going on a weekly two minute hate…

    Oh? The must of stolen that from you…

    as long as they hold one of the other houses it’s all good- they actually get things done, or not done.

    Ladies and gentlemen, a perfect representation for today’s American “conservatives”…as long as government gets gummed up, everything is just dandy…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  19. michael reynolds says:

    Under Mr. Bush I wanted precisely what I still want: Congressional and court oversight. Which we have. In fact, we have a bit more. If people want to work out an even better system of oversight, I’d probably support it, depending on the details.

    But that’s emphatically not what all these fluttery, “Why, I nevah! The very idea, Cap’n Butler!” fainting spells are about. We never seem to talk actual steps. Instead we have a lot of formless outrage.

    Outrage at what? At the fact that our intelligence agencies know some of what Google, Mastercard and Verizon know. We are all supposed to be outraged because the US government is almost on an equal footing with AT&T. The NSA is literally getting the information from those businesses.

    Take the set of all data available to private businesses run by people like Mark Zuckerberg, now take a subset of that data, and give it to the NSA, and panic in the streets!

    Why? Because people have been conditioned to fear the government and trust Big Business. This despite the fact that the last time we trusted Big Business they blew up the economy. Despite the fact that one of the guys we’re trusting said, and I quote: “They trust me — dumb fwcks.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  20. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    At the fact that our intelligence agencies know some of what Google, Mastercard and Verizon know. We are all supposed to be outraged because the US government is almost on an equal footing with AT&T. The NSA is literally getting the information from those businesses.

    Ha! Preach on, brother!

    The thing that gets me about this line of thought is that many of these folks will say it’s okay if Google or Mastercard or Verizon collects your info because your business relationship with them is entirely voluntary. Don’t like it….close your bank account. Don’t use the internet. Don’t call anyone.

    You know, the right to exit. (Rolling eyes.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @James Pearce:

    It makes me very nervous about my own line of work. After all, I am a part of the whole young adult dystopia thing (although, I didn’t actually do a dystopia, but whatever.) I see the persistent effects of Mr. Orwell’s brilliant but in the end entirely wrong, wrong, wrong novel, and I wonder if people just don’t understand that fiction is, you know, fictional.

    Big Brother is an outstanding “big evil” and O’Brien is an excellent “little evil” and the fictional universe is nicely-drawn, but it’s just a fwcking novel. It never happened! It’s not real. It’s not even good prophecy. In fact, just the opposite of what Orwell predicted is what happened: power swung in favor of the individual and away from government and institutions. That’s actually why we have NSA surveillance because power swung so far to the individual that nation states can’t stop a damned goatherd with a crock pot or a hillbilly with a truckload of fertilizer.

    If people want a better and more predictive old-school dystopia, read Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD. His pacing (and a lot of his other skills, too) sucks but he was way, way closer to being right. The whole country is on psychoactive drugs and we’re rushing toward genetic manipulation, but everyone’s worrying about some massive government rewriting history and putting rats on people’s faces.

    It’s bizarre. In fact, you know what it is? It’s Orwellian. Except that Big Brother was a minor British publisher called Secker and Warburg.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  22. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If people want a better and more predictive old-school dystopia, read Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD. His pacing (and a lot of his other skills, too) sucks but he was way, way closer to being right. The whole country is on psychoactive drugs and we’re rushing toward genetic manipulation, but everyone’s worrying about some massive government rewriting history and putting rats on people’s faces.

    I’m not a writer, but as a reader I have to admit that except for a bit of tedium at the reserve (or whatever it was called, its been awhile now), I thought “Brave New World” was a great book. Not just because of the dystopia (which I agree is more accurate than “1984”), but some of the characters were extremely interesting, and oddly sympathetic. Even the world co-ordinator (again, can’t remember his name) was a surprisingly likeable person.

    Just reading it for pleasure years ago, it was actually pretty hard to put down. I’d guess its common for lay readers like myself to be much less critical about technique than a writer, but I’m kind of surprised to hear you say it actually sucks technically. Going to have to read it again I guess, maybe the flaws will be more apparent.

    On the other hand, maybe I just like his style. I also liked his “Island”. For some reason he reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut, who’s one of my favorite writers.

    And yes, my comments are almost completely tangential. Guess I’m just reacting to the criticism of a book I really enjoyed when I read it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @george:

    Full disclosure, you should probably bear in mind that authors are sometimes bitchy about other authors and may not be the most reliable source for book reviews. I once (jokingly) attacked my wife’s spare, elegant and award-winning middle grade novel by pointing out that the whole first chapter is just two lines and that she was in effect cheating by having so much white space.

    It’s been a while since I read BNW but as I recall, the opening is slow and talky, just exposition rendered as stilted dialog. Weigh that against the fact that in 1931 — more than 80 freaking years ago, nearly five decades before Prozac, five decades before DNA for God’s sake — he nailed our drug-modulated, genetically-enhanced future pretty well. The boy could do him some prophesyin’.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @James Pearce: Seriously……you guys need to stop telling yourself that these are two different people. Senator Obama became President Obama. They are the same person. He has more information and different responsibilities and yet you’d have him act like he’s back in Chicago, voting on bills? That makes no sense.

    It’s a rhetorical device, used to portray just how much Obama has reversed himself on so many issues. It is intended to remind people who were such strong supporters of Obama when he was a Senator just how much he’s changed his positions. How so many of the things he denounced, he now practices.

    Don’t like the metaphor? Fine, I’ll drop it. Obama’s a complete phony and a hypocrite of the first order.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 8

  25. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    the fictional universe is nicely-drawn, but it’s just a fwcking novel.

    Yeah, man, it’s funny how some people regard 1984 as not only a cautionary tale (isn’t that it’s subtitle?) but as actual prophecy. Then they go around spinning variations of Napoleon’s slogan from Animal Farm. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

    Isn’t that how we got Trayvon Martin, Mitt Romney’s 47%, and Sarah Palin’s “real Americans?”

    At any rate, I enjoyed both 1984 and Animal Farm, but haven’t read any Huxley. I’ll have to remedy that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  26. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    It is intended to remind people who were such strong supporters of Obama when he was a Senator just how much he’s changed his positions.

    Yeah, yeah, pointing fingers and going neaner-neaner again. That’s real helpful in the big scheme of things.

    It’s not like you guys gave us much of an alternative. But then again….that’s beside the point. Obama is president, and despite this nonsense about “changed positions,” he seems to care about civil liberties. That he has political opponents who have yet to discover the floor for how low they will go only makes it seem like he doesn’t.

    I recommend you read this post over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

    If (Snowden) wanted the world to know how easy it is for an NSA employee to wiretap anyone from accountants to the President, why didn’t he just do it? He could have put the results on one of his thumb drives along with the other Top Secret data and walked out of the building.

    I suspect he didn’t do it because he knew that the systems that protect against such activity are a lot more carefully monitored than the systems from which he was stealing other classified data. So maybe he could have done it, but only once and only at great risk of being caught.

    And more:

    Contrary to the critics, existing oversight mechanisms — from the FISA court to the Justice Department and the inspectors general — are having a big impact on NSA’s behavior. Arguably, existing oversight mechanisms have already led NSA to protect privacy better than it protects national security. Adding more oversight, as Congress seems inclined to do, will shift NSA’s priorities further in the same direction. At some point, I fear, that will lead to a serious national security failure.

    Hello Benghazi.

    We’re back to the Rand Paul “drones killing Americans” crap: counterproductive, ignorant, preening, dead-horse beating nonsense.

    Wanna be helpful? Quit aiming at Obama and clean up the mess left after the GOP threw their little “Tea Party.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

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  28. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:
    It is really sad when you see progressives who claim to base their positions on principles sell out because their team in in charge of the White House.

    We all know that if a Republicans was in the White House people like MR would be screaming for impeachment even if there was Congressional and Court oversight (not that Congress can really oversee anything when it refuses to pass a budget).

    I guess for progressives everythng is OK as long as Team Democrat is doing it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

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  30. trumwill says:

    Of the various arguments in defense of some of the recent revelations (which honestly don’t put much fear into me – I’m white, non-Muslim, non-radical, and have little to fear generally) is the notion that AT&T knows it.

    I have a hard time imagining how AT&T is going to use the information against me in any meaningful way. It’s not hard to imagine the government doing the same (or doing so if I weren’t a white, non-Muslim, non-radical).

    There’s just no comparison between the two.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. C. Clavin says:

    Senator Obama wanted court oversight…President Obama has court oversight.
    There is no inconsistency here.
    Unless you are a libertarian in the midst of a fever-dream about black helicopters…remember Doug’s last post on this topic…when the FBI was following up on NSA ill-gotten information…only it was really the local cops responding to a totally reasonable tip from a former employer. Sorry pal…credibility lost.
    Or maybe if you are someone like Jenos or Edmondo who aren’t able to discern apples from orangutans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  32. rudderpedals says:

    Did someone call for an orangutan…?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. James Pearce says:

    @trumwill:

    I have a hard time imagining how AT&T is going to use the information against me in any meaningful way. It’s not hard to imagine the government doing the same (or doing so if I weren’t a white, non-Muslim, non-radical).

    Sure.

    But this logic only works if “handing all my information over to the NSA” doesn’t count as harm, and if it counts as harm, then one should not direct one’s arrows solely at the government.

    (And really….after the “Googling Pressure Cooker Bombs” story blew up in everyone’s face, we should leave imagination out of it.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  34. C. Clavin says:

    @ trumwill…
    Then the problem is not the metadata itself…it’s abuse of power…which has always existed…and would still exist if the NSA closed its doors tomorrow.
    In the meantime freedom requires security.
    That is the only measure of this program…is it effective? If so…take measures to guard against abuse. If not…then there is no reason to maintain the program.
    Unfortunately we will probably never know.
    I do worry about people like Dick Cheney getting their hands on this…but hopefully the American electorate has learned their lesson about people like Dick Cheney. Well…probably not. So we’ll always have to worry about people like Dick Cheney.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  35. trumwill says:

    @James Pearce: I don’t know how much choice these companies had in turning over the information. I know how much choice the government had in requisitioning or demanding it. The fact that turning the information over to the government is among the worst things that I can see AT&T doing with the information demonstrates, quite clearly, that there is a difference between AT&T having the information and the government having it.

    I’m happy to condemn AT&T for handing over the data unnecessarily. Though it’s harder to condemn them for having the data in the first place, when a lot of it is data they should have. (They’re going to have records of who I called and when – that doesn’t mean that it’s no different if the government has access to that data as well.)

    I wasn’t taken in by the pressure cooker story. So I’m still allowed to use my imagination. And a false report – even where people should have known better – does not invalidate the prospect of abuse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. michael reynolds says:

    @trumwill:

    Well, let’s see. Employees at AT&T et al could blackmail you, post your data online, sell your credit card numbers or steal your identity, or use data to SWAT you. They could leak it or sell it to people who dislike you. They could maliciously use the data to get you on foreign watch lists so that your vacation to France went very wrong. Employees at NSA could do the same, of course, obviously we know NSA doesn’t vet its people real well.

    Now, what else could the NSA do to you? Not in fantasy, Orwell-land, but in the real world? Serious question: what could the NSA do to you in reality? Shoot you? No. THat would be frowned on. Put you on a no-fly list for no good reason? Eh, arguably, but in reality no, since I think people would kind of notice if, say, 100,000 innocent people were being put on the list. Send the FBI to. . . to what, exactly? Arrest you? On what charge? And with what evidence? Did laws of evidence suddenly disappear in your fantasy? Because if they did then we don’t need the NSA because apparently it would be open season on everyone.

    When you get down to specifics, there are no specifics. There’s just paranoia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  37. trumwill says:

    @michael reynolds: As I said, I am a non-Muslim, non-radical WASP without friends who are radicals or Muslims. I personally have very little to fear from the NSA.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. michael reynolds says:

    @trumwill:

    But you imply that non-white or Muslim Americans should fear actual, real-world effects from the NSA? Such as?

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  39. trumwill says:

    @michael reynolds: I hope the government is as fair, reasonable, and restrained not to use the information it requires unfairly against politically vulnerable groups. Maybe it is. I don’t have all that much reason to fear that the government will be unfair to me. I do think my view on that might be kind of different if I were a Muslim. Or if I had friends who had extreme ideas. Particularly if they were Muslims with extreme ideas.

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  40. bill says:

    @trumwill: well, like it or not “profiling” actually works. and since we’re not being attacked by the Amish, Buddhists, etc. …..do the math!

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  41. michael reynolds says:

    @trumwill:

    But dude, you’re still not naming specific acts that might be committed that flow from PRISM and the other programs. There remains this disconnect between intimations of doom and actual, real-world effects.

    Let’s say you’re a Muslim American. You write emails in which you support the Palestinian cause and decry the drone war in Pakistan. So what happens next?

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  42. James Pearce says:

    @trumwill:

    Particularly if they were Muslims with extreme ideas.

    Depending on how extreme those ideas are, your Muslim friends should have cause to worry.

    If they content themselves with posting about the gold standard or ancient aliens on their Facebook page, they should escape any unwarranted NSA scrutiny.

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  43. michael reynolds says:

    @bill:

    We are also not being attacked by a billion Muslims. We’re being attacked by Al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Just as we have been attacked and certainly threatened by right-wing whites. Or are we pretending Oklahoma City never happened?

    So, profile a billion Muslims but not white people? Not gun-owners, for example, since white American gun-owners have killed a hell of a lot more innocent Americans than the terrorists have recently?

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  44. C. Clavin says:

    @ bill…

    “…like it or not “profiling” actually works…”

    spoken like a true white bigot.
    profiling requires abridging the freedom of entire races. ipso facto profiling doesn’t work. at least not in the land of the free.
    why do you hate america so???? (why america hates you is clear)

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  45. Scott F. says:

    @trumwill:

    I have a hard time imagining how AT&T is going to use the information against me in any meaningful way. It’s not hard to imagine the government doing the same (or doing so if I weren’t a white, non-Muslim, non-radical).

    You chose AT&T in your example, but you ignored the banks and credit agencies in michael’s list above. Do you really have that hard a time imagining how changes to your credit rating might harm even you – white, non-Muslim, non-radical you?

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  46. trumwill says:

    @bill: White men with guns and conservative views have also been known to commit terrorist acts. Should we be profiling them?

    @Scott F.: I am sympathetic on that front. The credit rating industry is indeed problematic. However, that has little bearing on whether or not I think the government should have access to my phone records.

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  47. trumwill says:

    @James Pearce & @michael reynolds,

    The primary fear is that it will be used to cast a wider and stronger net on what the more paranoid of us think they are already doing. Keeping people as prisoners that they could not actually convict in a court of law. Things like that. PRISM and the like help them identify terrorists, but also people who might should be treated like terrorists. It can provide more emergency justification for why we need to deprive people of their civil rights. It gives the government more justification to devote attention to people until they can find something wrong that the person did.

    There is a reason that we don’t say that “The police have very little interest in looking in your house, most likely, so you shouldn’t object to their looking around. What do you expect to happen? Besides, you let the plumber in.”

    If I have ideological or religious views that are seen by the government as hostile, I primarily want to (a) stay off their radar and (b) give them as little information as possible to apply pressure on me if they think I know something about their friends. We’re in “If you don’t have anything to hide, why are you worried” territory here, but that is not really the metric by which these things should be judged. The government wants the information for a reason. It’s not for the interest of those they are going to be targeting. I am not convinced that they are only going to target people who are clearly guilty of something, nor that these means are sufficiently legitimate to determine who should and should not be targeted.

    It’s little skin off my nose if they apply pressure to the wrong people. Or if the wrong people get caught up for having too much contact with bad people. But this isn’t the basis on which things should be judged. And the government has the ability to provide pressures and do things that very, very few people in the private sector do.

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  48. al-Ameda says:

    @James Pearce:

    At any rate, I enjoyed both 1984 and Animal Farm, but haven’t read any Huxley. I’ll have to remedy that.

    In my opinion Huxley’s Brave New World was far more interesting that 1984 or Animal Farm. I last turned the pages of those books when I was in college back in the early 1970s – I wonder how I would see those 3 novels today?

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  49. michael reynolds says:

    @trumwill:

    “The police have very little interest in looking in your house, most likely, so you shouldn’t object to their looking around. What do you expect to happen? Besides, you let the plumber in.”

    Except that’s not the comparison. In order for the NSA to access and certainly in order for them to actually use the data, they do need to satisfy the usual legal requirements of evidence, etc… Or do you think the feds can arrest random American citizens, toss them in jail, and when the case goes to a judge just say, “Yeah, well, with no warrant we found him saying stuff”? Because if that’s where you think we are, we don’t need to worry about PRISM, cops could be rounding up Muslims on the street. Which you will note is not happening. Because this isn’t a dystopia.

    The more accurate comparison would be to denying the police the right to look at the outside of your home even though you allow your plumber and everyone else to see it. We allow cops to see our homes, see our cars, run our plates if they think we look hinky, and come around to knock and ask questions. That’s all a given, all well established. The NSA is doing actually less than that.

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  50. trumwill says:

    @michael reynolds: Does it have to be a dystopia and involve Muslims being rounded up to be a bad thing? To have great potential for abuse? To be an invasion of privacy? To be a tool used against people for the wrong reasons?

    Hopefully, you are quite right and no abuse has occurred or will occur because we can trust our checks and balances to prevent it. I will happily be the foolish paranoid freak, here, if that’s what I am. Beats the alternative.

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  51. Rick DeMent says:

    @trumwill:

    I have a hard time imagining how AT&T is going to use the information against me in any meaningful way.

    Then you don’t have much of an imagination. The fact is they can sell your information and what is it about american corporations (or any corporations for that matter) that they would not stoop to selling anything that isn’t nailed down? Fact of the matter they are selling a lot of information to the government that people like you would s**t a brick if you found out the government was getting via a FISA court order.

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  52. trumwill says:

    @Rick DeMent: Which brings us back to the notion that I should worry about the information AT&T has on me as much as the government – or more – because they might give/sell the government the information. That’s not convincing, because in the end it’s still about the government having the information.

    So what info is AT&T selling to the government?

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  53. michael reynolds says:

    @trumwill:

    I don’t think it does beat the alternative. Because the alternative is we hobble the intelligence agencies and get hit again. Let’s say a series of suicide bombers in schools and malls. At which point precisely no one will give a damn about civil liberties, which may be curtailed far more drastically than they are now.

    Civil liberties exist so long as people essentially feel secure. When people get scared, civil liberties go out the window. Scared people just want to stop being scared and in the process may do things they would not normally do. I refer you to the entire history of the human race for reference.

    So while we all want to posture bravely and talk about the long mathematical odds against dying from terrorism, that doesn’t matter. What will matter is fear. Fear is the destroyer of civil liberties. Civil libertarians should focus a bit more on a much more realistic scenario: a dozen Bostons. And they should consider what that will do to liberty. You want a clue? Look at Israel.

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  54. trumwill says:

    @michael reynolds: I guess I wasn’t clear. The alternative to “Trumwill is being a foolish paranoid freak” is “Trumwill is right to be worried.” I would prefer the former be correct.

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  55. michael reynolds says:

    @trumwill:

    Ah, sorry. My poor reading, not your poor writing.

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  56. Rick DeMent says:

    @trumwill:

    Which brings us back to the notion that I should worry about the information AT&T has on me as much as the government – or more – because they might give/sell the government the information.

    You should actually, it’s not just that they might sell it to the government, they do. But they also sell it to other people and we don’t know who they are. Do you think for a moment they wouldn’t sell it to people who want to do us harm? You don’t think they just hand over information without asking for the feds to cover their expenses do you?

    But it’s even more insidious and this is where your lack of imagination comes in. You simply can’t figure out why AT&T having that information is a bad thing. Well for one they are unelected, you can vote them out of office like you can the government, second they write the telecommunications laws, you don’t think the government writes laws any more do you?

    And corporations have much more information on you then you realize. They know where you live, they know your bank account number, your SS number my god are you really that simple?

    On second thought you don’t have to answer that, I already know.

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  57. Trumwill Mobile says:

    Rick would be a good example of why.I don’t come around much anymore.

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  58. Steve V says:

    @James Pearce: Huxley also wrote a great book that Ken Russel’s “The Devils” was based on, about a demonic possession incident in France in the 1600s that really was about the mind’s extraordinary power over our actions and perceptions. Don’t judge the book by the movie.

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  59. Tony W says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Or do you think the feds can arrest random American citizens, toss them in jail, and when the case goes to a judge just say, “Yeah, well, with no warrant we found him saying stuff”?

    Mr. Padilla would like to have a word with you…

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  60. Jim Shapiro says:

    Can you spell “sociopath” ? :-)

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  61. THEnoamChomsky says:

    @stonetools: Let’s face it: After two straight days of protests over the trashing of the 4th Amendment by our gov’t, a terror alert arises – coincidentally, I’m sure. And let’s face this: 9/11 happened due to complete incompetence, NOT a lack of information. We were sitting on the information that “bin laden [was] determined to attack the US”. Absolutely nothing was done about it. So far the Patriot Act hasn’t helped catch as many terrorists as it has non-violent drug offenders & Senator Obama’s highly praised whistleblowers exposing waste & corruption are now being attacked with the Espionage Act of 1917. We should also face this: The Act was used 3 times from 1917 to 2008 & 7 times from 2008 to 2012. Keep in mind we’re talking about a man who ran & won on “transparency”.

    If you want to stay informed, unsubscribe from the establishment (state) media (TV & print).

    PS- I can’t believe your “real world” example was CNN… lol!

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