Where's The Outrage Over The Gov't Brushing Mass Privacy Violations Under The Rug?

from the what-a-joke dept

I have to admit that I've been a bit in shock over Congress's decision to simply renew the Patriot Act, recently, without a single safeguard to protect against abuse. That's because just before all this happened, we wrote about how a report from the government found (not for the first time) that the FBI regularly abused its authority to get phone records it had no right to. This went well beyond earlier reports of abusing National Security Letters. In this case, the FBI didn't even bother with NSLs. Instead, sometimes it would just use a post-it note. On top of that, reports came out noting that just weeks before this report was released, the Obama administration issued a ruling with a blanket absolution for the FBI's activities -- basically saying that if the President said it was okay, it was fine.

This is not how our government is supposed to work.

Julian Sanchez has a fantastic article that should be a must read, detailing how Obama went from being a candidate who insisted there would be "no more National Security Letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime" because "that is not who we are, and it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists," to one who appears to have no problem regularly spying on citizens and covering it up. President Bush was really bad with warrantless wiretapping and retroactive immunity for telcos -- and most people figured Obama would at least be marginally better on that issue. But it's really scary how the entirety of the federal government doesn't seem to care much about these blatant privacy abuses -- and the public and the press has shrugged them off as well.

Given all the reports of abuses, and Obama's campaign statements, you would think that at least the government would put in place some kind of oversight and safeguards when the Patriot Act came up for renewal. No such luck. In fact, the administration appears to have worked with Republican Senators to make this possible. I don't think this is what people meant when they expected to see more "reaching across the aisle" from the President:
Indeed, by the time the House Judiciary Committee took up the question of reauthorization in early November, legislators of both parties were venting their frustration about the scant guidance they'd gotten from the administration.

Behind closed doors, however, the administration was anything but silent. Instead of openly opposing civil-liberties reforms that had been under consideration in the Senate, The New York Times reported in October, the Obama administration opted for a kind of political ventriloquist's routine. The Justice Department wrote a series of amendments diluting or stripping away the new protections, then laundered them through Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, who offered them up verbatim.

It's worth taking a closer look at one such reform proposal -- again, predating the latest and most damning OIG report -- to get a sense of the disconnect between the administration's public and private stances. Some legislators had wanted to require the FBI to develop "minimization procedures" for NSLs, as they do when full-blown wiretaps are employed, to ensure that information about innocents is not circulated indiscriminately and that irrelevant records are ultimately discarded. This would only bring NSLs in line with other Patriot provisions compelling production of business records, where minimization is already required, and in principle, the Justice Department is already on board with this plan: As Inspector General Glenn Fine noted in his testimony before the Senate in September, the department's NSL working group was already laboring to develop such procedures in response to the abuses documented in previous OIG reports -- but the working group had been dragging their heels for more than two years.

The task of blocking any legal requirement that the Justice Department pick up the pace fell to Rep. Dan Lungren, a Republican from California. At a House markup session in November, Lungren offered up an amendment that would strip away the minimization mandate and even argued, bizarrely, that the very concept of "minimization" was inapplicable in the NSL context. He was visibly confused when Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers, after making a point of praising Lungren's "scrupulous study" of the issue, pointed out that the Justice Department itself had publicly accepted the need for such procedures.

"This is the first I had heard that the Justice Department was either considering it or had not raised any objections to this," a visibly perplexed Lungren stammered, "because it was my understanding they felt this was an inappropriate transfer of a process that is used in the electronic surveillance arena." The talking points with which Lundgren had been supplied, it seems, had not been checked against the official assurances the department had been providing.
Sanchez's writeup goes into a lot more detail, but it's a depressing look at today's politics, media and the public as well. Politicians from both parties first belatedly tried to "legalize" blatantly illegal spying on Americans, and then, when they had an immediate opportunity to put in place the most basic safeguards because "that is not who we are," instead conspired with each other to renew the law and completely ignore the vast and blatant abuses of it. When you wonder why so few people trust politicians, this is why.

Equally troubling is the fact that the story of the widespread spying basically disappeared after a week. Sure, lots of people are focused on the buzz du jour (healthcare, healthcare, healthcare), but how is it that everyone is just willing to forget that our own government has been spying on thousands of people in ways that flagrantly violate what the law clearly states?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    PopeHilarius (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 9:48am

    I think the risk/reward is misaligned for politicians on this issue. Let's say someone came out very publicly and very strongly against these abuses and for oversight, safeguards, etc etc. At best, they're doing a service to the American people, but not in a way that particularly moves voters. At worst, a terrorist attack occurs they'll be blamed for making America less safe.

    So instead, it's easier to just keep status quo.

    There are exceptions, but for most politicians job security is their top concern. Unless voters start caring about privacy abuses, they don't have the incentive to either.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 10:24am

    THEM TERRORISTS ARE DESTROYING OUR FREEDOM-LOVING INDUSTRY!!!

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 10:43am

      Re:

      And by terrorists, I mean the politicians. Sorry about the confusion.

      What does one call an actual terrorist? How about a murderer?

       

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        Chargone (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 11:52am

        Re: Re:

        possibly mass murderer, depending, but yeah.

         

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        John Fenderson (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 4:49am

        Re: Re:

        Terrorism is a tactic, that is all, and one that is engaged in to some degree by every military in history (even the ones generally regarded as "good guys.")

        The way it's used today. "terrorist" is a largely meaningless term, essentially the same as calling them "enemy" or "violent criminal."

         

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    The Mad (Patent) Prosecutor, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 10:29am

    The only good thing about a Dem getting into office

    The only good thing about a Dem getting into office is seeing all the beatniks wake up to reality. Yes, he told you what you wanted to hear to get elected. No, he doesn't care about you, and he never meant it. Yes, you really were that stupid to believe him.

    Watching Maynard G. Krebs' idealistic fantasies crumble to dust while he impotently shakes his fist at the gathering storm clouds is one of my favorite pasttimes.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 10:45am

      Re: The only good thing about a Dem getting into office

      The only good thing about a Dem getting into office

      It's got nothing to do with Dems or Republicans. It's got everything to do with politics and power.

       

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        Overcast (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 12:29pm

        Re: Re: The only good thing about a Dem getting into office

        The only good thing about a Dem getting into office

        It's got nothing to do with Dems or Republicans. It's got everything to do with politics and power.


        Most certainly.
        Partisanship is 'smoke and mirrors' - designed to detract from what's all really going on. You'd have to be blind or watching a LOT of Network News to miss it all.

        “It makes no difference who you vote for - the two parties are really one party representing four percent of the people”

        -Gore Vidal

         

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          CastorTroy-Libertarian, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 1:40pm

          Re: Re: Re: The only good thing about a Dem getting into office

          Yet everyone laughs off the 3rd party that could actually bring them into line...

          Oh and if your just sitting around bitching about it and not trying to do anything, i really dont have that much sympathy for you.

          (not pointing fingers at specific people)

           

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    Rekrul, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 10:37am

    Obama is a politician, which means that he's a lying sack of shit. People were stupid to beleive anything he said.

     

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    sehlat (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 10:48am

    You still believe?

     

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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 10:48am

    It doesn't matter

    I doesn't matter who the current figurehead is (President). The same gang of thieves and cutthroats are still running the country and "our" government. To quote some conspiracy theorist or other, why do you think JFK was murdered? Because he was getting too close to bringing these fuckers under some semblance of control.

     

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      interval, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 12:06pm

      Re: It doesn't matter

      @Spaceman Spiff: "JFK was murdered? Because he was getting too close to bringing these fuckers under some semblance of control."

      Ok, ignoring generally un-informed comments, you are right about the same gang of thieves.

       

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    jilocasin, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 10:54am

    Intelligentsia minimized, job well done.

    Mike,

    The only ones upset are reading this post. A skillful combination of money, corruption, distraction, fear mongering has ensured that the masses are only concerned with what _they_ want us to be concerned with.

    Owning most of the mainline media, and the systematic dumbing down of the American public through our disgrace of a public school system didn't hurt either.

    Unlike Po Pot, they don't have to kill the intelligentsia, they just have to minimize our numbers and our opportunities for mischief.

    It's not that there's no outrage, moral or otherwise. It's just that there are too few of us for the politicians to worry about.

     

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    Kirk (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 11:03am

    Patriot Act

    I suppose I need to consume more news; until just now, I had no idea that the act was up for renewal. (hangs head) Guess I'll go flush myself down the toilet.

     

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    Jim, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 11:04am

    4 the patriot act

    I'm 4 the patriot act. But your right, our leader are cowards and traitors and thieves.

     

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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 11:05am

    "no more National Security Letters..."
    Well, he kept his promise there. They just use post-it notes instead.

     

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    Ima Fish (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 11:06am

    The differences between the right and the left in the US are of degrees not of nature.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 11:16am

      Re:

      The differences between the right and the left in the US are of degrees not of nature.

      On a global scale, the US doesn't really have a left, it goes from right to far right (with the far right calling the right "left").

       

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    Adam (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 11:14am

    A simple quote, to sum it up

    "One love, one life, one too many victims. Republicrat, Democran: One party system." -- Sage Francis

    Seriously, expecting politicians to derail their own gravy train is like expecting a heroin addict to safeguard a stockpile of heroin.

     

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    John Doe, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 11:17am

    baaaaaaaa

    Most people are sheep so they fall for the usual tactics:

    - Think of the children
    - It is for our protection
    - To big to fail
    - etc

     

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    NAMELESS.ONE, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 11:18am

    caps, throttles paid blog shills total media control

    ya know if people got organized adn started taking 500 buds around each day to THERE blogs and sites and spread word of that youd get serious movement, when they can spread propoganda FOX and CNN style , for get it your owned

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 11:33am

    Where's The Outrage Over The Gov't Brushing Mass Privacy Violations Under The Rug?

    Because it isn't discussed on American Idol.

     

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    CrushU, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 12:29pm

    Warning: Large amounts of Idealism ahead

    You know, there's essentially two possible explanations for this sort of thing. First, Obama has no power, he's just a figurehead for the backdoor sneakysneaky people who really control the government.

    Second, and bear with me here, it's possible that there's a *very good reason* that they simply cannot tell us. For example, what if the President/FBI/CIA/NSA have detailed statistics about how many bombing/destruction/espionage (I don't like using 'terrorism', it's too general) plots have been foiled, specifically due to this surveillance? And if those numbers were, ah, rather high? They can't release those numbers because it would show just how many people don't like America (and because it wouldn't really stop anyone complaining)

    I mean, yeah, the second reason IS kinda far-fetched, but it WOULD explain the drastic about-face on this issue. Perhaps what I'm saying is; Maybe there's a good reason. (aka, Maybe the government isn't entirely evil. Yet.)

     

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      chris (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 1:13pm

      Re: Warning: Large amounts of Idealism ahead

      Second, and bear with me here, it's possible that there's a *very good reason* that they simply cannot tell us....They can't release those numbers because it would show just how many people don't like America (and because it wouldn't really stop anyone complaining)

      then why do they trot out every little thing that *might* remotely resemble terrorism? why do they make a big deal out of things like shoe bombers in the media?

       

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        CrushU, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 2:24pm

        Re: Re: Warning: Large amounts of Idealism ahead

        I would hesitate to put forth the suggestion that the Mainstream Media is not the Federal Government.

        Radical statement, I know.

         

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      John Fenderson (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 4:54am

      Re: Warning: Large amounts of Idealism ahead

      "And if those numbers were, ah, rather high?"

      If those numbers were high, then they would be trumpted from the mountaintops by the governmental propaganda machine to support their actions.

      As it is, even the very few examples they have brought forth have turned out to be bullshit.

       

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        John Fenderson (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 4:54am

        Re: Re: Warning: Large amounts of Idealism ahead

        "Trumpted" is the new cool way of spelled "trumpeted".

         

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        CrushU, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 3:45pm

        Re: Re: Warning: Large amounts of Idealism ahead

        Thought: Exposing the numbers, the plots, etc... Would be rather like sending a DMCA takedown to something on the internet. The plot would only get more attention as being something that 'doesn't work', and they would therefore try different things.

        Like with RIAA suing Pirate Bay... the people went elsewhere and are harder to track. The same would happen if these (note: theoretical) things were being caught silently now, and then trumpeted tomorrow. And, as I mentioned, it's not likely it would actually make people stop complaining.

        Though... Yeah, this is a big 'Trust Us' from the government, which I do agree is suspicious. ;) I'm just putting forth the possibility that maybe they AREN'T evil, and have actual good reasons. :D

         

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          nasch (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 9:51pm

          Re: Re: Re: Warning: Large amounts of Idealism ahead

          Though... Yeah, this is a big 'Trust Us' from the government, which I do agree is suspicious. ;) I'm just putting forth the possibility that maybe they AREN'T evil, and have actual good reasons. :D

          Probably too late for this to get noticed (TD really needs a comment notification system), but no, there is no good reason. I know this because there is a way for them to get secret court oversight for their secret surveillance actions. There is even a way for them to put in place emergency surveillance and get approval AFTER the fact. The best case scenario is that the people who are supposed to be investigating crime and preventing terrorism are very lazy and not interested in doing their jobs properly, or are very incompetent and are not capable of doing their jobs properly. Comforting, no?

          The worst case scenario of course is that they are perfectly able and aware of how to do it right, and do not do so because they're evil. I would lean toward incompetent/lazy, but there's probably some evil too.

           

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    Zombie Doc Homicide, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 12:35pm

    Ummm this comes as to a surprise to anyone?

    Really this surprises anyone? Being president is a lot like having the one ring. Sure it is shiny and has lots of power but no matter how good you are the power will turn you. Seriously though most American's just don't care. I know most of my friends don't care, I post links to these stories on FB and all that and they are like why do you keep posting this stuff? No one cares... That is until they come for you... 'Merica home of the apathetic.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 12:45pm

    Between this and the EU laying the smackdown on ACTA, it makes me wonder why people loathe governance in Europe. Sure Italy , France and the UK are part of the EU, but nobody cares about those countries anyway.

     

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    Anonymoose, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 12:48pm

    I think there's plenty of citizen outrage, but the problem (and possible reason the story has died) is that taking an arch point of view doesn't fit into the narrative of either party, or the agenda of anyone paying to push stories along (corporate, political or media).

    Democrats and Republicans are on the same side on this one, and there's not a third party that's strong enough to offer a viable alternative or answer to the issue.

    So with nothing to do, no call to action or solution to the angst, the story fizzles.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Mar 11th, 2010 @ 12:52pm

    Second, and bear with me here, it's possible that there's a *very good reason* that they simply cannot tell us. For example, what if the President/FBI/CIA/NSA have detailed statistics about how many bombing/destruction/espionage (I don't like using 'terrorism', it's too general) plots have been foiled, specifically due to this surveillance? And if those numbers were, ah, rather high? They can't release those numbers because it would show just how many people don't like America (and because it wouldn't really stop anyone complaining)

    I understand where you are coming from.

    But...

    I'd rather have freedom and liberty than 'safety by the government'.

    Government can never guarantee your personal safety - ever, but they can, in fact guarantee your personal liberty.

     

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    Isaac, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 1:21pm

    Re: Zombie Doc Homicide

    I have experienced the SAME THING on social media sites my friend. I'll do an inane status update, and get PLENTY of posts in reply...comments...whatever.

    But let me post a relevant news story or article calling for free thought or something (such as this very article) and NOONE will say a damn thing. I dont even think they click on the thing....its discouraging at times.

     

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    Colonel Panik, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 2:15pm

    Where's The Outrage

    No matter how paranoid or conspiracy minded you are,
    what your government is actually doing is worse than
    you can imagine.

     

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    timothy price, Mar 11th, 2010 @ 2:52pm

    government eavesdroppings

    Hey, if they are intent on listening to us, be sure to tell them that we will defend our bill of rights, laugh at their pomposity, ridicule their wealth, shame them for their vanity, avoid their financial system, and institute digital scanners at all voting stations so that the people can review their own ballots after the election so that fraud will be caught.
    Meanwhile, tell them to close the prisons and let the people out. Bring our soldiers home, and don't reenlist, demand 9/11 be considered a government false flag, and video your Congressman when he tells you that he has full confidence in the 9/11 Commission Report. They get really uncomfortable.

     

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    bob, Mar 30th, 2010 @ 3:02am

    It's The Change Baby

    Politics, Power and who is in charge.
    When Bush was in office the media want nuts about the patriot act.
    Now that Bush is gone the renewal of the act gets a page 4 in the paper.
    As our current president is in the process of "Fundamental Redistributive Change" of our country, he needs all the tools that he can get at his disposal.

     

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