During President Barack Obama’s public press conference addressing the leaks from the National Security Agency’s controversial PRISM Internet surveillance program and court-ordered seizure of Verizon phone records, he reiterated his campaign’s most vital commitments — to keep the American people safe and adhere to the principles of the constitution.
What ensued was a flimsy, evasive justification of an egregious overreach of government powers followed by a trite, political appeal to the American public.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” the president ensured.
What the NSA says it is doing, however, is collecting metadata — information ranging from call locations, durations and telephone numbers — a diminutive term that is likely being used for public relations purposes to avoid public suspicion.
The president further distanced himself from culpability by reminding the American public that congressional oversight committees, along with all elected officials, were aware of these programs all along and that all warrants for privacy intrusion were granted by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a cryptic government establishment created with the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.
Obama encouraged “healthy skepticism” and commended opponents for raising the issue, attributing it to a “growth in democracy,” altogether a patronizing distraction considering the U.S. government quickly spearheaded a criminal investigation into the NSA leaks. The whistleblower was revealed Sunday night by The Guardian, a British newspaper, to be Edward Snowden, a contracted NSA employee and a former CIA technical assistant, who consented to the release of his name.
Obama’s entire speech was a poorly crafted argument that attempted to mend the gap between government action and the fourth amendment, which
protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. An argument was instantaneously refuted by the president’s nonchalant approval of “modest
encroachments on privacy,” which, he claims, benefits the safety of Americans.
“You cannot have 100 percent security and 100 percent privacy,” he said.
The ambiguity and dismissiveness of Obama’s words is astounding. The claim that government programs that compromise citizen privacy help prevent “future terror attacks” remains unsubstantiated. Regardless of their efficacy, the idea that courts inaccessible to the public have the authority to issue seizure warrants is inexcusable. Furthermore, under the Patriot Act, the government can delay notification of warrants to the recipient using a “flexible timeline.”
The constitution certainly grants members of Congress the right to legislate on behalf of their constituents, but these powers are limited in the context of the Bill of Rights. In his speech, the president assured a system of checks and balances is set into place to guarantee these rights to the American people.
But how effective is the system when the legislature, executive branch and judiciary are in collusion, employing controversial measures that vaguely emulate constitutional standards?
The NSA seizures come at a time when the executive branch, the informal figurehead of the federal government, is involved in a slew of scandals that purportedly violate constitutional principles.
The president’s response to this scandal is more alarming than it is controversial and may set the precedent for further government malfeasance at the expense of the American people.