01.17.2014 0

Obama shutting down NSA database? Not really

obama surveillance eyeBy Robert Romano

“President Obama, responding to a clamorous debate over the government’s broad surveillance practices, announced on Friday that he will require intelligence agencies to obtain permission from a secret court before tapping into a vast storehouse of telephone data.”

That was the New York Times reporting on Barack Obama’s January 17 address outlining supposed changes being made to the continued collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency on every single American.

In addition, says the Times, the changes “will ultimately move that data out of the hands of the government.”

So, if the report is to be believed, the agency has suddenly decided it will start following the Constitution and get a warrant before engaging in searches on U.S. persons here, as prescribed by the Fourth Amendment. And its administration of the database it previously has said was essentially to national security is now going to be shut down. Right?

Well, not exactly.

Here’s what Obama actually said: “I have directed the attorney general to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding or in the case of a true emergency [emphasis added].”

So, wait. Built into these purported reforms to perhaps the greatest surveillance program in human history, in order to supposedly better protect civil liberties, is a grand exception giving the agency the discretion to continue query the database without judicial assent?

How’d that escape the Times’ attention? Hard to believe this was the same newspaper that blew the cover off this scandal way back in 2005.

The other glaring omission from the Times’ report is that by Obama’s own admission, they’re not shutting off the database itself at all. Meaning, the gathering of phone records on everyone without probable cause will be continuing unabated for the foreseeable future.

On eventually, supposedly turning off the database, what Obama actually said was: “I have instructed the intelligence community and the attorney general to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address, without the government holding this metadata itself.”

So, what? All Obama did was ask for an assessment on the feasibility of shifting the database somewhere else. Maybe.

What will that entail? Instead of copying the data directly to NSA servers without probable cause the agency will just be tapping them directly from the phone companies’ servers?

The Obama speech raises more questions than it does answers, and it is hardly the open and shut “no more domestic spying” story of the Times account, which bears almost no resemblance to even what Obama said.

Pretty solid reporting there, New York Times. Can you say Orwellian newspeak?

The omissions do not end there, however. There’s the fact that — per the Snowden disclosures — the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court already, without probable cause, has allowed with a rubber stamp the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the NSA to gather everyone’s phone records at regular intervals.

Now, according to Obama, the agencies will continue doing so, and instead of a judicial rubber stamp at the front end of the process, it will occur at the back end, except when it’s really, really important — and then the Constitution does not apply. And then, the database will be shut down yet somehow will still be accessible.

What a relief.

For a second there, I thought the constitutional law professor Obama who ran for president railing against this program had suddenly appeared. Fear not. Obama’s not giving up his listening post.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.

Copyright © 2008-2023 Americans for Limited Government