Tag Archives: privacy

A Three-Video News Sandwich

Last night Jimmy Kimmel criticized Obamacare in his monologue, and even aired a fake ad that told the truth about the program: Obamacare is designed so that young and healthy Americans subsidize the health care costs of older and sicker Americans. Check out the video. Yes, it would have been better if Kimmel had named altruism as the root cause of Obamacare getting passed by Congress (the video says it’s because only older people vote), but in today’s context this is relatively bold.

What I’d love is for Kimmel and other popular talk show hosts to start taking Obama to task for his liberal use of executive orders. Obama held a press conference yesterday in which he announced his intention to use executive orders, along with his power to “convene Americans from all walks of life” in order to “move the ball forward” on his egalitarian agenda. He said he’ll be meeting with his cabinet members to see how far he can push the envelope to, in effect, legislate without any legislation being passed. Check out the video of Obama’s statement (if you can stomach it) here at The Right Scoop.

If you watched that video and are thoroughly disgustipated, you could use the lift you’ll get from watching the next video, Senator Ted Cruz’s Q & A with President Obama’s advisory panel on privacy. Cruz does a decent job pressing the panel on NSA overreach, but I think he could have gone further and pointed out the problems that would exist even if the telephone companies are compelled to retain Americans’ telephone metadata, as a substitute for the current NSA bulk metadata collection program. One of the panel members even suggested that a single private company, as opposed to the NSA, could be hired to store all the data, if there were concerns about the efficiency of having each telephone company store the data separately. That arrangement would likely be even worse than what we have now, and yet Cruz didn’t object when the idea was raised.

My nitpicky criticisms aside, what is also commendable about Cruz’s questioning of the panel is the language he uses with respect to the jihadists who have committed terrorist attacks on our soil in the years since 9/11/01. He repeatedly refers to the massacres in Fort Hood and Boston as “terrorist attacks,” and blames “Jihad” for them. This is important because the Obama Administration calls the Ft. Hood massacre an instance of “workplace violence,” and has scrubbed references to Islam from various counter-terrorism training materials. Cruz argues that these attacks might have been prevented if Hassan and the Tsarnaev brothers had been given appropriate scrutiny and surveillance.

Check it out:

Cruz continues to be the politician in Washington who gives me the most hope. Now only if he would read my piece on the third-party doctrine 🙂


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A Too Little, Too Late News Sandwich

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who attended a meeting at the White House this week to discuss the future of the NSA’s data collection programs with President Obama, told The Guardian that he left the meetings with the impression that “[t]he debate is clearly fluid.” In other words, he thinks there is a significant chance that Obama will decide to curtail the NSA’s bulk telephone data collection program. This is something that he, as a long-time outspoken critic of the NSA’s intrusive programs, would like to see. The Guardian also reports that another legislator who attended the meeting, Wisconsin Congressman James Sensenbrenner, is the co-sponsor of pending legislation that would end bulk data collection. Apparently they are waiting to move on the legislation until after Obama announces his decisions regarding the NSA’s programs, something he might do as early as this coming week.

Contrast these legislators with John McCain, who seems to just now be coming to the party, and who has oh-so-boldly called for a congressional investigation into the NSA’s activities. Sorry, Senator McCain, it doesn’t take a months-long-investigation to realize that the thing we most need to do to protect Americans’ privacy is end the third-party doctrine.

What’s more troubling to me are indications that any significant changes to be proposed by Obama this week will enhance the privacy not of Americans, but instead of foreigners, perhaps including terrorist suspects. In the same article in which The Guardian reports McCain’s half-hearted proposal to investigate the NSA, it also quotes the following from a speech Obama gave in December:

“In some ways, what has been more challenging is the fact that we do have a lot of laws and checks and balances and safeguards and audits when it comes to making sure that the NSA and other intelligence agencies are not spying on Americans.”

“We’ve had less legal constraint in terms of what we’re doing internationally … and the values that we’ve got as Americans are ones that we have to be willing to apply beyond our borders I think perhaps more systematically than we’ve done in the past.”

Pessimistic Translation: I don’t want to do anything to curtail the NSA’s spying on Americans, but how about we make terrorists’ jobs easier, now that I have an excuse to make some modifications to these programs? (Do I pretend to know that this is what Obama will announce this week? No, but I think we all have good reason to fear it.)

The good news is that, should Obama decide not to eliminate the NSA’s bulk data collection (and having the telephone companies collect the data instead does not qualify), there is a good chance that Americans won’t let him get away with it. Privacy advocacy groups have been raising public awareness of these issues, even going so far as calling for boycotts against companies they believe to be complicit in providing “backdoor” access to the NSA. One group recently started an online petition to encourage comedian Stephen Colbert to cancel a speech he plans to give for a privacy firm, RSA. RSA is believed to have taken $10 million from the NSA “to incorporate a weakened algorithm into an encryption product called BSafe that would allow the spy agency easier access to protected information.”

If Colbert decides to join others who have canceled their talks at the upcoming RSA conference (he should), and particularly if he decides to announce his reasons for doing so, it could help keep a fire lit under politicians in Washington. It would also give me another thing to like about Stephen Colbert (so far, this is all I’ve got).

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A “What’s Good for the Goose…” News Sandwich

According to The Guardian, the NSA responded Saturday to a request from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont about the NSA’s activities with respect to members of Congress. In its statement, the NSA implied that it monitors the communications of Members of Congress as it does any other American. Sanders asked whether the NSA “spied” on Members of Congress, defining “spying” as “gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.” The NSA responded, in part, that “Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons.” In other words, Members of Congress have no privacy, either.

Do you think now we might see some legislative action on the issue of the third-party doctrine? Yes, normally I would say this story is bad news, because having a security agency spying on members of the legislative branch might interfere with our system of checks and balances. But in today’s context I’m more interested in seeing a fire lit under the feet of our legislators.

(For my argument as to why and how we should eliminate the third-party doctrine, check out “Don’t Tread on My Metadata” at PJ Media.)

Maybe this revelation by the NSA will motivate one of our better politicians on the issue of privacy, Senator Rand Paul, to get behind the push to give some sort of clemency to Edward Snowden. Again, according to The Guardian, while Paul has spoken in a sympathetic manner about Snowden, he has stopped short of calling for any sort of leniency or clemency. To me that’s disappointing, especially given the fact that Snowden’s revelations are making possible Paul’s class-action lawsuit against the NSA, something that will no doubt be a big fundraiser for his campaign.

What is also disappointing is that there is nothing about the substance of the lawsuit on his site, just a form to fill out. I want to know what theory will be used to challenge the NSA’s spying activities. I have called and emailed Senator Paul’s staff to try to get something more specific than Paul’s framing of the issue during last Friday’s interview: “whether or not constitutionally you can have a single warrant apply to millions of people.” Even that vague framing of the issue may be enough to prompt the Court to reconsider the third-party doctrine, but it would be better if the issue were put to the Court directly.

The good news is that, should the Court eventually do the right thing and eliminate the third-party doctrine, technology is already available that will allow the NSA to do its job just fine without indiscriminate collection of bulk metadata. Matt Blaze, a security expert writing for The Guardian, says that the NSA’s recently revealed “Tailored Access Operations,” which “scare the daylights out of [him],” will allow the NSA to get the information they need to protect national security without routine “backdoor access” to our personal data. Writes Blaze, “as well as TAO works (and it appears to work quite well indeed), they can’t deploy it against all of us – or even most of us.”

But I bet they could deploy it against all Members of Congress 😉

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