The Digital Surveillance State: Vast, Secret, and Dangerous

Glenn_greenwald_portraitGlenn Greenwald in Cato Unbound (via Andrew Sullivan):

Illustrating this More-Surveillance-is-Always-Better mindset is what happened after The New York Times revealed in December, 2005 that the Bush administration had ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without the warrants required by law and without any external oversight at all. Despite the fact that the 30-year-old FISA law made every such act of warrantless eavesdropping a felony, “punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both,” and despite the fact that all three federal judges who ruled on the program’s legality concluded that it was illegal, there was no accountability of any kind. The opposite is true: the telecom corporations which enabled and participated in this lawbreaking were immunized by a 2008 law supported by Barack Obama and enacted by the Democratic Congress. And that same Congress twice legalized the bulk of the warrantless eavesdropping powers which The New York Times had exposed: first with the 2007 Protect America Act, and then with the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which, for good measure, even added new warrantless surveillance authorities.

Not even revelations of systematic abuse can retard the growth of the Surveillance State or even bring about some modest accountability. In 2007, the Justice Department’s own Inspector General issued a report documenting continuous abuses by the FBI of a variety of new surveillance powers vested by the Patriot Act, particularly the ability to obtain private, invasive records about Americans without the need for any judicial supervision (via so-called “National Security Letters” (NSLs). The following year, FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed ongoing abuses subsequent to the time period covered by the initial IG report.

Again, the reaction of the political class in the face of these revelations was not only to resist any accountability but to further expand the very powers being abused. When then-candidate Obama infuriated many of his supporters in mid-2008 by announcing his support for the warrantless–surveillance expanding FISA Amendments Act, he assured everyone that he did so “with the firm intention — once [he’s] sworn in as President — to have [his] Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.”