From information slowly being released, it appears the government has been engaging in electronic snooping without court approval for quite some time. As someone sensitive to those that like to play an ideological blame game, I am also cognizant that playing "the snoop game" by traditional rules does not necessarily make it right. And that is where we are with the current administration's play. Seems the Obama Administration has been playing "fast and loose" with meeting requirements relating to obtaining Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approval for electronic eavesdropping. Is it all Obama's fault for allowing such activity to take place? Yes! Is he solely to blame? No!
According to a recent Associated Press article by Stephen Braun, the electronic surveillance of Americans communications has been going on since Executive Order 12333 was signed by then President Reagan. According to Reagan's Executive Order (1981), the "framework for the collection and sharing of intelligence, and national security agencies are required to submit guidelines to the Attorney General for approval." But what are those guidelines and what do they say? According to the article, the guidelines for electronic surveillance have not been submitted for approval by the Attorney General since 1982! To make matters worse, the guidelines themselves have not been updated since 1993! So, instead of having active review of the program through the Department of Justice, the NSA has been able to operate covertly with little to no oversight. In fact, it has been recently revealed that information required for disclosure to the FISA Court has also been inaccurate or manipulated. So the judicial check created by FISA has been quietly circumvented without explanation. But how can this be?
Without minimal oversight by the Department of Justice, and without strict scrutiny by the Courts established by FISA, American citizens effectively have no vehicle to keep government surveillance guidelines and activities in check. Which gets to the issue of blame. Reagan allowed the NSA to operate without DOJ oversight. Clinton had the guidelines updated, but still allowed no DOJ oversight. After 9/11, Bush did nothing to curtail the NSA from operating covertly in the public surveillance arena. But under Obama? He has followed the path begun by Reagan (instead of changing the course to protect Americans from unreasonable "searches and seizures" of our personal communications). That might appear a harsh statement, but it is true. Snooping into one's mail requires a court ordered warrant. Yet, how many Americans today use electronic mail instead? E-mail is a routine tool utilized for virtually all communications. E-banking may have begun small, but today, average Americans routinely use the Internet to buy, sell, or bank on-line. With the advent of modern Internet telecommunication capabilities, you would think our government would be working hard to establish modern guidelines that meet concepts of privacy. But our government has failed us. Instead, the perceived "War on Terror" seems to have trumped our expectations of privacy. When asked, Americans shrug and accept the reality that there is no longer any expectation of privacy. Cameras are everywhere. Face recognition software is evolving in such ways that our daily lives may be recorded, reviewed and archived for potential future use. All interest now is for our "collective security" from perceived potential dangers.
Why hasn't the Obama Administration weighed the potential loss of liberty as a cost of this ongoing "War?"
In the guise of protecting Americans from potential dangers, our protected liberty to privacy has become "expendable." Do Americans understand that the loss of any expectation of privacy to our government has a much wider affect than simply believing, "What do I have to hide?" Amazingly, the very folks that scream 2nd Amendment rights to defeat control measures that would allow the government to track gun purchases, seem okay with having every other aspect of their lives become an "open book" for the government to use. What mechanisms are in place to ensure the government does not abuse access to Americans' personal information? Can that information be used to control the flow of information, tailoring it in an effort to manipulate our understanding of events? Manufacturing crisis in ways to convince the electorate extreme measures by our government are necessary to "protect us" while in reality Unconstitutionally controlling us?
It is bad enough many Americans routinely are convinced to vote against their self-interests. It is an entirely different problem when the government has the unfettered ability to utilize information it gathers from Americans in ways that can manipulate us. So I say this to the Obama Administration. Break the chains of "tradition" and begin to review all aspects of FISA. Ensure that all NSA guidelines are reviewed by the DOJ and that they enforce Constitutional Liberties for all Americans. Have Congress create an independent agency with oversight powers over surveillance of Americans with the authority to oversee all government motions presented to the FISA Courts and ensure they are in compliance with the revised guidelines. Require the independent agency to publicly disclose the new guidelines and report findings on activities of the NSA on an annual basis.
The Framers created a wonderful form of Constitutional government based upon an elaborate system of checks and balances within a framework separating powers. When it comes to modern electronic surveillance, Americans should expect nothing less than full compliance with the expectations of freedom and liberty created by the Framers. For years, mistrust in the Federal Government has been a weapon of the fringes of the political parties. The fastest way to restore that trust, is to ensure our government operates once again within the framework "Of the People, by the people and For The People."