I just listened to the NSA speech by President Obama and as expected there is precious little in terms of real change. For civil libertarians, it is a nothing burger served hot and with a sympathetic smile. It is much of the same. Another review board composed of government officials. Another promise for the Executive Branch to review itself. I am in Salt Lake City today on the Sister Wives case, but I am struck by the absence of civil libertarians on the coverage by the networks. I will have to run to court but I was underwhelmed. It seemed like another attempt to reinvent privacy in a new surveillance friendly image.
As I tweeted earlier, it was rather unpersuasive to hear Obama say that he was always intended to force reforms and that Snowden was merely a coincidence. If you step back, you will note that the programs will continue and the intelligence community will retain its authority with little outside independent limits. The speech had the feel of a car salesman coming back from “speaking with the manager” and saying that he is able to offer a deal that no one likes but he wants to offer because he likes the customer. Of course, this “deal” does not require our consent.
In the end, the changes are either undefined (like the privacy advocates) or basically “trust us were your government” (including a reminder that NSA people are your neighbors).
The Paul Revere reference at the beginning seemed to set the less than honest approach of the speech. Revere and the Sons of Liberty were watching public movement of an enemy at war. Likewise, Obama again references “court” review of the metadata as if it were a true court applying real probable cause. FISC has been widely ridiculed as a rubber-stamp for the government. The Court is given a standard that is hard for the government not to satisfy with even the most casual filings.
In the end, it was in my view more spin than substance from the President.
Reprinted with permission from author's blog.