NSA In Perspective

Many on the left have spent the last few days processing the president’s speech last week on NSA reforms and trying to figure out if this is (finally) evidence that Obama is turning a corner on surveillance, security, and privacy. Good perspective on this comes, as usual, from Glenn Greenwald, writing last Friday in The Guardian:

And now we have the spectacle of President Obama reciting paeans to the values of individual privacy and the pressing need for NSA safeguards. “Individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress,” he gushed with an impressively straight face. “One thing I’m certain of, this debate will make us stronger,” he pronounced, while still seeking to imprison for decades the whistleblower who enabled that debate. The bottom line, he said, is this: “I believe we need a new approach.”

But those pretty rhetorical flourishes were accompanied by a series of plainly cosmetic “reforms”. By design, those proposals will do little more than maintain rigidly in place the very bulk surveillance systems that have sparked such controversy and anger.

GG does point to some positive developments: FISA court reform, less control over national security letters, distancing NSA from control of metadata, and the diminished inclination to spy on leaders of friendly nations. But on the whole it is sad but true that he can reach this justifiable conclusion: “Those who want genuine changes should not look to politicians, and certainly not to Barack Obama, to wait for it to be gifted.”

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