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"What was most amazing to me back when I first wrote about these Obama administration efforts was that a mere six weeks earlier, a major controversy had erupted when Saudi Arabia and the UAE both announced a ban on BlackBerries on the ground that they were physically unable to monitor the communications conducted on those devices. Since Blackberry communication data are sent directly to servers in Canada and the company which operates Blackberry — Research in Motion — refused to turn the data over to those governments, “authorities [in those two tyrannies] decided to ban Blackberry services rather than continue to allow an uncontrolled and unmonitored flow of electronic information within their borders.” As I wrote at the time: “that’s the core mindset of the Omnipotent Surveillance State: above all else, what is strictly prohibited is the ability of citizens to communicate in private; we can’t have any ‘uncontrolled and unmonitored flow of electronic information’.”

In response to that controversy, the Obama administration actually condemned the Saudi and UAE ban, calling it “a dangerous precedent” and a threat to “democracy, human rights and freedom of information.” Yet six weeks later, the very same Obama administration embraced exactly the same rationale — that it is intolerable for any human interaction to take place beyond the prying eyes and ears of the government — when it proposed its mandatory “backdoor access” for all forms of Internet communication. Indeed, the UAE pointed out that the U.S. — as usual — was condemning exactly that which it itself was doing

The FBI claims this requirement is merely an extension of current law that mandates that all telecommunications carriers provide government surveillance access to telephone conversations when a search warrant is obtained, and that failure to extend this requirement to Interent communications will risk “Going Dark” with important investigations. There are many reasons why this claim is false.

For one, as surveillance expert Julian Sanchez explained to me in October, the U.S. Government does not need “backdoor” access to all Interent communications in order to surveil even individuals using encrypted communications; instead they can simply obtain end-user surveillance to do so: “if the FBI has an individual target and fear he’ll use encryption, they can do a covert entry under a traditional search warrant and install a keylogger on his computer.” Moreover, the problem cited by the FBI to justify this new power is a total pretext: “investigators encountered encrypted communications only one time during 2009′s wiretaps” and, even then, “the state investigators told the court that the encryption did not prevent them from getting the plain text of the messages.” As usual, fear-mongering over national security and other threats is the instrument to justify massive new surveillance powers that will extend far beyond their claimed function."
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Thanks for the tag +Alex Grossman. In the event that I neglect to come back and comment on this please ping me tomorrow. I'd prefer to comment now but I'm wiped. Great share and thanks again.
The amazing thing is it does not matter if the administration is GOP or democrat. They all want it.
Those in power assume the right to protect that power at all costs. They need false pretences to circumvent popular disapproval and the standing law. It was always like this, but this president is by far the worst and should be trialled.
Sorry, +Alex Grossman I think this is, to be blunt, hogwash. The threats we are dealing with right now are so intense, so diverse and so literally connected to the internet that ONE person who thinks otherwise surely has the right to think otherwise, but Presidents and administrations––despite everyone's continued disrespect that ANYONE in office can do anything virtuous––might have a few more pieces of information than Julian Sanchez; and might have really good reasons for their wanting this kind of access.

Does America realize that it is under any threat at all? Aren't we busy watching "The Voice?" And too busy EVEN to tell the difference between lies and truths and "a pox on both their houses" is the brisk flip off of government altogether right now?

Fear, paranoia, distrust of government and over-reaction to these facts is business as usual. It is important to note that we are dealing with a whole lot (especially for the next six months) of crazy people and that should be on the front pages of our minds.

And then the entire dismissal of the Republican chicanery and lying. Man +Alex Grossman , I sure wish you would wake up to the fact that your erudition on this subject is superb but your timing sucks! Think about it: Jimmy Carter, what happened to him? SOMEONE in the Republican Party got inside Iran and made it so those hostages were not released until the day Reagan took office. Nixon's horrors are too many to be listed (have you ever wondered who had George Wallace shot? I have a journalist friend who could not find TWO sources, so did not print it, but his one source was pretty damned high up). Then "The Selection." Or, in Congress, how about printing grand jury testimony on the internet (a felony for you or me).

There IS a real difference between the two parties. And I agree with you this administration needs to answer why the sudden change of heart on this (and GITMO); but don't you think if they could they would? I mean COME ON! We're dealing with some nasty foes outside of the country!

And some nasty foes within: I don't know what the act is going to be, but it very well COULD be to create some scary thing so people will get scared and vote for the "safe" guy. The lies about President Obama are so insane that THEY should be on your hit list of what we ought to start to get afraid about. (Why is no one looking at this? Why are even the mainline press not calling the Republicans to task for this?)

I honor your intention Alex. I know you don't WANT to be political. BUT WE ARE AMERICANS in the middle of a really important election. And you are so right about these things but your timing is just so wrong. Ask me after the election and I will organize a group to get into why this happened and its reasons. I will petition. Etc. But bringing this up now? You may not see it, but you are making political points against a Democrat while trying to be politically even-handed.
Gary F
Anyone who wants to whitewash the evils done by one side just because they are better than the other does more to push me away from the party than draw me in. I respect integrity above all else, and that sentiment is sorely lacking in integrity +Meg Tufano

I am a swing voter, and if I can't count on a party to be accountable for their promises and actions, I'd rather vote 3rd party than throw my vote away on someone who only pretends to share my values.
+Gary Forbis Trust me, I'm a big believer in keeping your promises. Mr. Obama kept 168 of 169 promises so far. Far more than W (who, as you will recall, promised that we would not become the world's police). Only one promise I know of President Obama did not keep: GITMO. (Do you realize GITMO is on the island of Cuba?) In any case, I don't know WHY he didn't keep that promise, and I think if he could tell us, he would. The other promises kept are here:

This information from +Alex Grossman is not, in my opinion, germaine to the suitability of President Obama as President. It was intended (as almost all Alex's posts are) to get us to be aware that there is a whole lot going on that we need to keep abreast of so we do not lose our liberty. And there is a whole lot going on that we need to know to keep our liberty, I agree. But my argument with Alex is a political one: President Lincoln said he would never let black people vote. (While he was running for office.) If Alex thinks that it would be apolitical to bring that fact out during the election which really was about allowing slavery to continue in the West? He is kidding himself in my opinion. And would have been "voting" for slavery even if he was just keeping to the facts, Ma'am.

We get to have these discussions, but not while we are in the midst of deciding who will be our President. At this point? We have to focus on who we think would be the best person for the job. And this kind of article is piling it on President Obama whether Alex wants to do that or not (I don't think he thinks Mr. Romney is the better candidate, but he is working for Romney whether he wants to be or not.)

I believe with all my heart that the purpose of these laws are to help America be more safe. The threats we are facing are real; and most people have not even caught on yet (despite drones and all the rest) that we are fighting a new war, a new threat that is diabolical in its stealth and power and that it is completely pernicious to liberty, but we must fight these asymmetric threats or lose not just our liberty, but everything.
Gary F
I vastly prefer Obama to Romney. But I have huge huge issues with some of the policies continued and enacted by him. I disagree that we are under a threat significant enough to continue the TSA. I disagree with how the DHS was brought in to coordinate efforts to suppress OWS. I could go on for quite a while, but I will keep it short. I am massively disappointed in Obama, and even after all that I still believe him to be a better president than Romney would be.

But to say let's not criticize him until after he has won really strikes me the wrong way. Call him on his mistakes and get him to address them now while we the people still have some pull.
+Meg Tufano Wrong is wrong, regardless of the timing or the person in office. And, if we don't act now, we risk long term harm to ourselves and our civil liberties. Because, if you don't think the kind of national security neo-con Republicans surrounding Romney won't run even further with this power and ability, you're kidding yourself. It would be even harder to fight this later.
+Meg Tufano As for not holding Republican lies to account, just look at PolitiFact, or the post I made referencing an ad they fact checked recently.
+Alex Grossman I'm very glad you hold Republican lies to account. Wrong IS wrong. When to point out a wrong? I think we will have to disagree on that.

I am not at all sure this is a big deal because I don't have time to study everything. However, what is a big deal is that where I live people think President Obama is a Muslim intent on ruining our country to fulfill the dream of his father. (Watch D'Souza's CPAC speech and get a feel for what people REALLY THINK IS TRUE AROUND HERE IN TENNESSEE!)

So, you may be isolated from this kind of craziness and still be able to keep a level head and a conversational state of mind. I cannot because I can see that we are in danger. And it is the truth that is being drowned out with lies that are being paid for by very wealthy people.

I'm just saying Alex: I love the truth too. I love your commentary and your commitment. But you must come down on a side in the next few months. Pretending this is just an academic exercise to reveal how bad guvmint is stealing our freedoms? We cannot do that right now and be good citizens. We have to study the two men who want to be in charge and make a decision. I'm being harder on you than I might be with someone else because I think your ideas are important, your thinking is sound.

I still believe you are inadvertently, or maybe on purpose, making the Republican case against President Obama. After November? Let's revisit this question: I will have a totally different outlook when the future of my country is not hanging in the balance.
Gary F
Will the country get worse under Romney than Obama? Yes. However, I'd really like to see things get better rather than worse slower. Obamacare was a beginning, but NDAA is two steps back. Not prosecuting people who committed torture under Bush is two steps back. Expanding surveillance against our own citizens is two steps back. Granting companies immunity from prosecution if they had over our information without a warrant is two steps back. Everything that is going to be abused by the next administration of either party is making things objectively worse. The republicans will bitch about them when the democrats are in power. The democrats will bitch when the republicans are in power, but no one will do a damn thing to repeal them while their own party is in charge. The advances made on gender issues are great. There is just too much awful mixed in with the great. If Obama isn't going to do far better in a second term, I don't care whether he gets re-elected.. 
Gary F
Not exactly what I'm saying, but I think I've said my piece. Thanks for the interesting conversation.
+Gary Forbis I'm too tired now, but I'd like to come back to this thread and respond to your "two step back" concerns. I don't know how to bookmark a thread (amazing, I've been doing this all year and still do not know how.) Tomorrow, would you call me to attention? And I'll study your points.
the fact is that we have more influence to effect change when he needs our votes than after the election. It's quite simple. I have no confidence that either party will reverse course on this issue after the election (both parties in power seem to want more and more surveillance). I do believe that Obama can be convinced to do so because he wants the votes. Therefore, it makes sense to make the case now for how wrong this is and get things to change.
+Alex Grossman I agree with Alex that there is unlikely to be backpedaling here. Surveillance never decreases of its own volition.

I expect that despite our struggle against it, surveillance will continue to increase. Our best defense against it is to demand transparency back from governments and corporations.
+Jeff Jockisch +Alex Grossman And how much would you be willing to pay for that transparency. In other words, what would your measure be in human lives lost that would balance the transparency? Ten? A hundred? A few thousand? (As if we could figure that out, which is probably one of the reasons for the secretiveness: a decision based on caution and fear of the unknown.) I more than understand the idealistic issue at stake here, but I would argue we are doing more to harm the freedom of Americans to free speech and freedom itself by the inculcation of the idea of moral relativism and cultural relativism than by some guy at NSA being able to check out "the back end" of a computer company. Why? Because when one is not allowed to come down on a side, one cannot think at all; thinking is a whole series of decisions, this being better than that. If one is not allowed to do that (and we have gone into hyperdrive in this inane direction), one loses ones freedom of speech because surely speech is undergirded by the freedom to think.
agree with you on the moral relativism and cultural relativism point, +Meg Tufano. But why do you think that government transparency is going to cost any lives? It need not by misaligned with your security concerns. The point of Sousveillance is to watch the watcher, but it need not always be in realtime.
+Meg Tufano Having served in government at high level, I simply can't agree that it's worth trading freedom for security. Freedom always comes with risks. But the lack of freedom definitely comes with servitude. The argument is often made that if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from them being able to read your communications. I simply don't buy that. My freedom is worth something and I do not believe that the alternative is lives lost. The article itself makes the point that there is nothing under current practice that prevents them from getting the information they need with normal warrants to install keyloggers or other tech.

As for moral relativism, not sure what you mean here. Neither I nor others have brought up such a point. If anything, I'm arguing for the importance of staying closer to an absolute protection of our freedoms and liberties. We have, willingly and blindly, given up so much already. We need to stop giving up more so that we can then fight back to regain some of what we have lost.
+Alex Grossman The argument is often made that if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from them being able to read your communications. I simply don't buy that. I don't buy that either; so we meet on those grounds. (Sorry about the Freedom to Think argument which +Jeff Jockisch and I have discussed previously and were talking in shorthand for such an important area of freedom of speech which we can come back to later.) But my fear about your concerns here is that we are not facing the real threats to our freedom that are coming at us constantly but IN NEW WAYS. We tend to always fight the last war, and the war we are in now is a very new one. You, and others, are upset about the drone strikes and other actions like that because it gives the President power to sign off on these things. If he DOESN'T have that power then that gives us Iran/Contra rogue behavior; or CIA extra-legal actions in the pursuit (I hope) of protecting our freedom from weird threats for which we were not prepared nor did we have legal ways of responding. If we do not have anyone who CAN legally sign off on these things, that gives the power to Bin Laden and other foes who know our hands are tied. It increases the likelihood of responses that are illegal as well as not transparent. If it has to go all the way to the top before such action can legally be taken, I'd say that's a pretty safe way to go.

It's odd that we're having this conversation when everything we write here is easily searchable. And, apparently, that scares some people here such as +Siamak Manzarpour who (in case you haven't noticed), erases all his comments at some point in time after he's made them. Not sure of all the reasons. But I think one of them is just that: he doesn't want the world to be able to read his "public" comments here.

My question was a serious one: your answer is that government can already get what they need by going through "channels." What if the problem is the channel? (Treason?)
Gary F
+Meg Tufano You have far stronger belief that individuals in our government will act in good faith than I. Look at what happens when you give people unchecked power. Look what happened in Guantanamo. Look at this case: Fully Nude Strip Search by Cops: Male Police Stripping Woman Completely Naked

I have no faith that any powers we give the government will not be systematically abused to the extent they can get away with it. And even if I did believe someone was incorruptible, those same powers will eventually be handed over to a successor.

Our government only serves us to the extent that it can be held accountable. And I will never give away an inch of that accountability.
+Meg Tufano We are a nation of laws and there are already laws in place that can provide law enforcement with the access they require to the information they need without asking for all of our data. And, this access can be had in real time so there is no danger to ongoing operations not having the intel they require. So many times, we grant the government powers to act to provide security due to temporary threats or issues. Yet, these powers never seem to expire and we lose more and more freedom. The best recent example is the Patriot Act from the Bush Administration, which Obama then renewed. I am not saying that this Administration should be thrown out, nor am I saying that I trust the alternative even more on these issues (because I do not). However, if we don't stand up for our rights now, then when will we? Afterwards, based on experience, is simply too late.

And are you really trying to argue that the FBI needs this enhanced surveillance to counter treason? There is simply no justification for having that kind of police state (because that is what we would have at that point).

With regard to drones, that is a separate issue. On that point, I do not believe the President has unilateral authority to order the execution of American citizens. There must be due process, at the very least consultation with the majority and minority leaders of the intelligence select committees. Due process doesn't have to mean a trial, but it does mean that there should be some accountability and there are already mechanisms in place for consulting with Congress while also keeping the information and intelligence secure. We really want to avoid a return to the kind of CIA/intelligence community we had before the Church Committee.
Well, I'm studying up on The Church Committee and apparently I am not alone in my naivete: "[Hersh's report about illegal activities] The revelations convinced many Senators and Representatives that the Congress itself had been too lax, trusting, and naive in carrying out its oversight responsibilities."

Are the following (FISC) the laws to which you refer that would give more than enough help to going in the back door of an online entity? "Today, the FISC oversees requests for surveillance warrants of suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the United States by federal police agencies." (Source: Wikipedia)

And, Alex, this is all at the Congressional, FBI and CIA level: does that mean that the President (the Executive level) has to go through Congress, the FBI and the CIA to respond to threats from individuals that may be imminent? I don't know the answer.

My entire thinking on this subject has changed dramatically since reading, "Warlord's Rising." I actually attended The Watergate Hearings and the dirty tricks surrounding Nixon were legion, as was the later illegal behavior of Iran-Contra (never completely cleared up to my satisfaction). In those days I would not have trusted anyone in government.

And +Gary Forbis , I guess you are right. My attitude toward the people in government has changed. I know there are some bad apples, but I keep thinking differently about them because I keep meeting so many (like +Alex Grossman himself) who are such strong patriots.

This is tough thinking territory. I think I'll go read some Herodotus and Thucydides and recalibrate my brain. ;')
+Meg Tufano Yes, there is a separate court for getting secret warrants that would allow law enforcement and intelligence agencies to do things such as installing key loggers, listening devices, etc. As for the FBI, CIA, etc, those are all part of the Executive Branch - they all end up reporting to the President. So there's no need to distinguish between them and the President.

With regard to Congress, yes, there is a requirement to actually consult with the leaders of the Select Committee on certain kinds of operations and actions since they approve funding. We use this process to help ensure and avoid an executive going off the rails with their covert operations. This is the kind of due process that could be followed when there was a need to approve an action that would result in the death of American citizens abroad even without court approval.

But the bottom line is, as Lord Acton said, that power corrupts and we need safeguards and checks and balances. We need to really avoid giving the government too much power because we have to think in terms of institutions, not individuals.
+Alex Grossman I am an acquaintance of Alan Derschowitz who explained to me at length some years ago why I had to give up my naivete about power. He explained how easy it is for those whom we permit to enforce the laws (the police) to use extralegal methods that cannot get found out because everyone is in on the corruption. And why our courts are set up with so much protection for defendants because the prosecution can (as we all saw for ourselves in the pursuit of Mr. Clinton) go crazy (as in on a fishing expedition) against people they do not like. My own son's best friend was an enormous black kid and when they would go out in my car, the police would stop and interrogate them, full body searches, every inch of the car, without any warrant or any other reason than it looked odd to them that a white kid was in an expensive car with a big black kid. He learned a certain kind of lesson from that experience and is far more cynical about authority, the police, etc., than I as a result. Phill Hocking has been on a rant for months because he cannot believe how badly police can behave and get away with it and if you don't have any money, you can just chalk it up to experience because you will not get justice. Honestly, I probably don't understand The Patriot Act, but I do understand one thing: we got hit because enemies of America used our own freedoms against us. I don't see a solution on the horizon. We cannot be the police of the world. We should not be killing people without a fair trial. But is this a pragmatic solution to an unsolvable problem? We certainly cannot get rid of the "power corrupts" problem because that is built into every single one of us! It is human nature. So, what is the solution? Surely you believe that there are good people (you were one of them) who are trying to figure this out? (That is either my naivete talking, or my analytical side trying to solve what appears an impossible problem.)
Any of you who care about the several human rights issues being discussed in this thread should rise up and make getting Obama re-elected as well as taking back congress and holding the senate your top priority. No matter how imperfect you may feel things are.

Discourse is valuable, its productive, but its not enough.

You need to get a sense of urgency and GOTV and donate to re-elect Obama. If you think its bad now - you can't imagine how bad its going to be if the Republican's (=> Koch Bros etc.) take the white house or we don't take back congress.

Look around at whats happening, concretely, on a daily basis, to destroy Democracy. MI and WI have practically been taken over by rulers thinly veiled as Governors and legislators. Women's basic human rights are being rolled back to medieval times. Hundreds of citizen rights destroying bills are being passed at the state levels.

Don't be lulled just because the opposition looks so crazy - in fact that's exactly what you instead should be worried about.

The extremists Republicans who have taken control of the Republican Party aren't dismissable as just a bunch of loonies who can't win and will go away.

There is an unbroken thread of the same people now behind Romney and everything happening at the state levels and whats being pushed through the house for the last several years - of the same underlying power that's in force since the Bush years.

Their voter suppression campaign, the enablers for having been put into place for years prior to now is a deliberate part of the strategy, so that without significant action on the part of reasonable voters - it may not even matter that the majority of the people in the US are against the extremist policies.

Its perfectly clear at this point that as much as reasonable people prefer to try to find common ground, in this instance its impossible to negotiate or compromise with the extremists, its just stupid at this point to think its possible. Virtually all of the moderate Republicans have been pushed out. And there is no viable alternate option.

As they have said openly from the start - they will stop at nothing to get Obama out of office. They are willing to destroy the country to do that. Why? Because the Obama administration and more broadly the Democrats (as imperfect as may be) are the best hope any of us have for fighting off the total loss of our Democracy and any shred of citizen rights.

Neither the Obama administration nor the president are all powerful rulers, they can't be in a Democracy by definition. We lost congress in 2010 because citizens sat back and expected the President to wave a magic wand while by and large they sat in front of the TV or whatever the pastime - then many of them whined and complained when Obama couldn't single handedly fix everything, magically and instantly, that the GOP extremists have been putting into place for over a decade.

Lets not let a vision of unrealistic individual perfection that can never be attained - be the enemy of the best shot we have at saving the country.

This isn't the time to complain, this is no joke - its the time to act. We have 6 mos before the election, that time will go by in a flash.
I'm sorry I don't know who you are +Lauren Massa-Lochridge , you've been in my circles for ages: but THANK YOU! I could never have said it any better and I'm literally incapable of such clear prose that is not at all dismissive of the concerns of +Alex Grossman and others who really do work incredibly hard at understanding what are the complicated ethical concerns of the inner workings of government. But who do not seem to "get it" that we cannot overturn Citizen's United before November, we cannot get the Patriot Act reconsidered under Republicans, and if we don't hurry up, we will lose everything!
+Meg Tufano Thank you so much - you are too kind! I was just sort of brain dumping my frustration ad own sense of urgency.

I really mean it when I say the discourse is valuable, and I love being a part of this community of critical thinkers. However, I do think there is a time when most of our effort has to be channeled into action - and this is that time.

Otherwise, we may have no future means of fixing any of the problems that we care about.
+Meg Tufano Yes, power is easily abused. That is why I look at institutions, not individuals. So, for example, let's say we trust Obama to not abuse this surveillance authority. Are we willing to entrust this power to whoever comes after him? I say no. The entire system, from the founding onward, is designed to work as institutions checking and balancing each other, with ultimate power supposedly resting with us citizens. We can't grant power, pass laws, or give authority to the government just because we like or trust one particular individual to use it reasonably and responsibly. That is what I am getting at here.

The question of who to elect is a separate one. I have grave concerns regarding the GOP, the advisors Romney has around him for national security and foreign policy, and the grass roots of the party with all that they imply regarding issues of personal liberty. So, I am likely to choose the lesser of two evils and vote against the GOP this Fall. But, I still won't grant power that I don't believe the government should have and will actively work to keep them from having this power, regardless of the person in office.
+Jeffrey Raskin I agree with what you said regarding the choices we face in November. I just don't think that even with that, that we can give anybody a pass when it comes to issues that impact our personal freedoms. I said above that we are far more likely to get the outcome we desire with pressure now than after the election.
+Jeffrey Raskin Whether or not Obama is trying to do such, I still don't trust this kind of authority in the hands of the government. Best to be clear on this and to make it clear that the public does not support this kind of legislation.
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