You don’t trust President Barack Obama?
No faith in the massive federal bureaucracy? Don’t hold a huge reservoir of confidence in Congress representing your interests? How much do you trust the federal courts that handle secret requests from the Department of Justice . . .and then issue secret decisions based on the judge’s secret interpretation of the law?
Be advised: President Obama finds “your lack of faith disturbing.”
“If people can’t trust not only the executive branch, but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process, and rule of law,” Mr. Obama told reporters, “then we’re going to have some problems here.”
Let’s put partisanship aside and agree with his conclusion. Indeed, there are problems galore; the morning paper reads like a dystopian novel.
Uncle Sam — or Big Brother (it is increasingly difficult to tell them apart) — is snatching a record of every phone call you make, including to whom you are calling, from where you call, and how long you talk. And, but for a leak of classified information, we wouldn’t be worrying our pretty little heads about it.
Still, “no one is listening to your telephone calls” the POTUS reassures, as if the Feds knowing every phone call you make, when, where and to whom, isn’t a serious enough violation of your privacy. Of course, if the FBI or NSA or CIA are listening to the content of calls, it’s surely classified and you won’t be told.
But trust him.
Or trust that good ol’ Congress! “I think at the outset,” explained the president, “it’s important to understand that your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed on exactly what we’re doing.”
Considering congressional approval ratings, that point strikes me as less than assuring.
It’s nonsensical, too. The few members of the House and Senate intelligence committees who receive classified briefings (the entire Congress is not informed) are sworn to secrecy. Even if they disagree with what’s happening, their hands are tied. They can’t do very much about it.
Moreover, the few congressmen informed only know what they are told. That’s hardly oversight.
It’s not just all of your phone records, either, the National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping into the servers at Apple, AOL, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Skype, Yahoo, YouTube, etc., and capturing your personal information — emails, pictures of kids and grandkids, financial information. The administration argues the companies have agreed to this surreptitious government snooping, but the companies publicly deny it.
Again, the Great O assures you that they are not reading your emails. But doesn’t he mean “not at the moment”?
They are also reportedly grabbing all your credit card information. Who is “they”? I think that information is classified.
It’s all legal, though. Or so we’re told. But no law passed by Congress — not the Patriot Act or any other — can overrule our constitutional rights.
The FISA courts, created by the Foreign Surveillance and Intelligence Act, are not “lawful” in approving secret government requests to violate the Fourth Amendment rights of virtually every American in a secret proceeding without any countervailing party to raise objections and without any ability to appeal a decision.
Even supporters of the FISA court easily admit that it’s essentially a rubber stamp. According to several reports, Big Sam — er, Uncle Brother — I mean, the government has never had a request denied.
Setting up a secret court and whispering the secrets to a few members of Congress who promise not to tell isn’t a meaningful check on power. The only group I have any confidence in, the public, is kept in the dark.
President Obama tells us there are compelling national security interests, upon which our rights must be balanced. “You know, when I came into this office,” he offered, “I made two commitments that are more important than any commitment I make: number one, to keep the American people safe and, number two, to uphold the Constitution, and that includes what I consider to be a constitutional right to privacy and an observance of civil liberties.”
His priorities are flipped. Mr. Obama is required to take an oath, which he swore twice, to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” There is no addendum about keeping people safe.
The president should, of course, do all he can to “keep the American people safe.” But he does not have a choice to do so at the expense of abiding by the Constitution, including the Fourth Amendment . . . the Second . . . the First . . . and all the others.
Otherwise, there are going to be problems.[further reading]
June 9, 2013
This column first appeared on Townhall.com.