February, 14th 2011

Meet the new boss...

– Liz Mair

... same as the old boss.  From TechDirt (H/T Soren Dayton and Julian Sanchez on the Twitterz):

Remember how President Obama, while campaigning, promised to reject the questionable spying practices of the federal government of President Bush? Yeah, forget all that. Over the past two years, we've seen time and time again that he's actually extended those abuses even further. The latest to come out is that the Justice Department is now claiming that the FBI has the right to get phone records on any call made from inside the US to an international numberwithout any oversight. You may recall a few years back that there was a similar controversy, when it came out that the FBI would regularly just call up phone companies and ask for records -- despite the fact that this violates certain laws designed to protect consumer privacy. Sometimes, they would just use post-it notes

Apparently, a year ago, McClatchy newspapers put in a FOIA request, asking for the details of a particular Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo that was mentioned in the (previously released, but highly redacted) report that showed how frequently the FBI abused the law in this manner. The OLC took its sweet time responding, but finally responded, and in the cover letter admitted that the Obama administration believes it is perfectly legal for the FBI to route around the in-place oversight for getting access to such records and claimed that the law said so. 

Which law says so? Oh, see, that they can't say. Yes, the part of the letter that explains which law lets the FBI get these records without oversight was redacted

It's a secret law! And here I thought, in the US, if the government was going to base actions on a particular law, at the very least, they were supposed to tell you what law. Apparently, the Justice Department under the Obama administration does not believe that to be the case.

I was never one of those who got het up about the apparent high priority of suing telecom companies who cooperated with the Bush administration in good faith regarding wiretapping, given that a) the instigator was the Bush administration (blame them!) and b) everyone was, back then, having the bejeezus scared out of them by government organs left, right and center and was operating more than ever on the premise of better safe than sorry (not saying what they did was legal, just that going after the entity/individuals most responsible at root seemed most sensible to me).

However, I was one of those who got het up about the Bush administration pursuing wiretapping in the manner and circumstances in which it did.  I was also one of a handful of folks arguing that the issue wasn't R vs D (Rs = for legally questionable surveillance = bad; Ds = for free ponies and awesome = good), but rather executive branch vs. everybody else-- and that therefore, with extremely limited exceptions that did not follow party lines (Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich), one could safely assume whoever might have conceivably managed to get him or herself elected president in 2008 was going to do... pretty much the same old crap.  Because, you know, that's what the executive branch likes to do (what it wants, with minimal oversight or responsibility to explain itself) and they know the legal arguments because lots of administrations, both D and R, have made them before.

Well, surprise, surprise.  Obama, the big civil libertarian himself, is doing... the same old crap! And actually doing potentially worse things, depending on your read.  Which you'd never expect because, you know, he's not in power or anything, let alone worried about what a failure to appropriately (if not clearly legally) surveil might do in terms of, say, bringing down his presidency if a terrorist did something and we could have caught it if only we were listening in but no one could be bothered with bureaucracy or legal niceties or whatever.

This should serve as a little wake-up call to all the naive true believers out there who think that a) George Bush was uniquely bad (he wasn't, though he did do plenty I didn't like, including in the surveillance area) and/or b) that just because some constitutional law professor from Chicago says a bunch of stuff about civil liberties and putting an end to abuses and stuff doesn't actually mean jack is going to change, no matter how much he plasters that word all over his campaign literature and says it as frequently and dedicatedly as televangelists say "Amen."

Like UK Deputy PM Nick Clegg puts it, "you shouldn't trust any government, actually including this one. You should not trust government – full stop. The natural inclination of government is to hoard power and information; to accrue power to itself in the name of the public good."

Yes, indeed.  Buyers remorse is a bitch. [intro]


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