In response to a groundswell of public horror at the intrusiveness and enormous scale of the surveillance state, President Obama appointed a blue-ribbon panel to consider changes – not to the programs themselves, God forbid, because Terror, but changes to how much we know about how much the government is spying on us.
Once again, as is so often the case, “Yes Minister” tells us what’s going on:
Sir Humphrey Appleby: … I am fully seized of your aims and of course I will do my utmost to see that they are put into practice.
James Hacker: If you would.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: And to that end, I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions.
James Hacker: You mean no.
Fortunately, some members of Congress are wise enough to see through this charade. Among them is progressive Democrat and physicist Dr. Rush Holt (D-PA), who has filed the “Surveillance State Repeal Act“.
Unlike more mealy-mouthed efforts at “reform”, this one strikes at the guts of the problem: the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act themselves. Simply put, without these Acts, the kind of mass surveillance conducted by the NSA would no longer have any figleaf of legality. The FISA Amendments Act’s main purpose was to legalize what the government had already been doing, and immunize from prosecution the companies who had colluded with the government’s illegal warrantless surveillance of Americans. Then-Senator Obama (this is always worth pointing out) voted for it. He has never sincerely opposed mass government surveillance, he doesn’t oppose it now, and he will do his best to secure an outcome where nothing about what the NSA is actually doing has to change. And I say this as someone who voted for him in 2012, based on our agreement on many non-surveillance-related issues.
So, please call your congressmember and ask them to cosponsor Rep. Holt’s excellent bill, which also provides better protections for government whistleblowers. And if you’re in DC toward the end of October, please sign up to come and protest for surveillance reform with the Stopwatching.us coalition.