Obama Administration's Expansion Of Domestic Spying Powers Dwarfs The 'Good Old Days' Of Bush And John Yoo
from the a-backbone-too-far dept
I guess the real accomplishment of “The Most Transparent Administration” is how much it exposed Americans to domestic surveillance. I suppose that’s its own form of “transparency.”
Just Security’s Patrick Toomey notes that this administration has embraced legal theories wilder and more expansive than those presented by John Yoo on behalf of the Bush administration. Yoo, despite his willingness to treat the collection of communications like a DUI checkpoint for terrorism, had his limits. This administration, however, has seen those limits and lowered them.
Like Yoo, the Obama administration has argued that Americans have a “greatly reduced” expectation of privacy in their international communications — so diminished, in fact, that no warrant is necessary for the government to intercept and search those communications. That might come as a surprise to the millions of Americans who regularly engage in personal or confidential communications with family, friends, business associates, and others overseas. When you pick up the phone to call a family member abroad, there is no reason to believe that your communication is any less private than calling a friend across town. The Supreme Court has certainly never said any such thing. Indeed, Yoo eventually admitted in his memo that the case law did not support the suspicionless interception of “the contents of telephone or other electronic communication[s]” — though he then proceeded to ignore his own conclusion.
But that has not stopped the government from making the same claims in the Section 702 cases now moving through the courts. The government has embraced Yoo’s position, arguing that the privacy interests of US persons in international communications are “significantly diminished, if not completely eliminated,” when those communications are sent to or from foreigners abroad.
Going further, this administration has decided to believe that any communication traveling outside of US borders is a communication with a foreigner, even if it’s a domestic-to-domestic conversation taking an extremely circuitous route. If it crosses one of the overseas backbones the NSA has tapped into, it’s fair game, no matter who the ultimate recipient of the communication actually is, or where they reside.
This is the NSA’s upstream collection under Section 702, which now goes much, much further than Yoo’s version ever did. Toomey notes Yoo assured FISA Court Judge Kollar-Cotelly that this collection was not the Bush administration giving itself permission to seize and search every international communication. But that’s exactly how the Obama administration has chosen to interpret its powers.
As the ACLU recently explained in Wikimedia v. NSA, this surveillance is the digital analogue of having a government agent open every letter that comes through a mail processing center to read its contents before determining which letters to keep. In other words, today the Obama administration is defending surveillance that was a bridge too far for even John Yoo.
So, John Yoo, the architect of what was once thought to be the greatest expansion of government surveillance powers, is now just the guy who laid the foundation for the intelligence community today. What the Bush administration considered to be too far is the Obama administration’s starting point. Considering the breathtaking reach of the NSA under this administration, it’s hardly surprising a few leakers have taken it upon themselves to reveal to the public what’s being done to them by their government in the name of national security.