Barack Obama promised his administration would be the most transparent in history – and what a joke that turned out to be.
He recently claimed his administration has gone eight years without any major scandals – and perhaps he meant scandals without his personal involvement. It’s like when he claims there’ve been no foreign terrorist attacks on the U.S. during his presidency, even though we’ve suffered the Boston marathon bombing, San Bernardino shooting, Pulse nightclub shooting, among other attacks. It’s “technically” true because he added in the word “foreign” – but there were still terrorist attacks (and it’s doubtful the families of the victims care much for the differentiation).
Given what Obama just did, he should be reminded that the NSA scandal occurred under his administration. His recent actions make the American people far more transparent for the government.
As The Intercept reported: With only days until Donald Trump takes office, the Obama administration on Thursday announced new rules that will let the NSA share vast amounts of private data gathered without warrant, court orders or congressional authorization with 16 other agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security.
The new rules allow employees doing intelligence work for those agencies to sift through raw data collected under a broad, Reagan-era executive order that gives the NSA virtually unlimited authority to intercept communications abroad. Previously, NSA analysts would filter out information they deemed irrelevant and mask the names of innocent Americans before passing it along.
The change was in the works long before there was any expectation that someone like Trump might become president. The last-minute adoption of the procedures is one of many examples of the Obama administration making new executive powers established by the Bush administration permanent, on the assumption that the executive branch could be trusted to police itself. Checks and balances? Who needs them!
As he hands the White House to Trump, Obama just unchained NSA from basic limits on passing raw intercepts to others https://t.co/JkbJhTrUsI
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 12, 2017
This massive database inevitably includes vast amount of American’s communications — swept up when they speak to people abroad, when they go abroad themselves, or even if their domestic communications are simply routed abroad. That’s why access was previously limited to data that had already been screened to remove unrelated information and information identifying U.S. persons. The new rules still ostensibly limit access to authorized foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes — not ordinary law enforcement purposes — and require screening before they are more widely shared. But privacy activists are skeptical.
Activists have long been concerned about the erosion of barriers between law enforcement surveillance and NSA spying. With access to the NSA’s intercepts, law enforcement could search Americans’ private information for evidence of criminality without going to a judge — a loophole privacy activists have called the “backdoor search loophole.”
Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel with the ACLU, said in a statement that the procedures raise “serious concerns that agencies that have responsibilities such as prosecuting domestic crimes, regulating our financial policy, and enforcing our immigration laws will now have access to a wealth of personal information that could be misused.”
A timeless Milton Friedman quote is especially relevant in this case: “Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it.”
[Note: This post was authored by Matt Palumbo. Follow him on Twitter @MattPalumbo12]