During the first presidential debate, the issue of terrorism on American soil came up. Lester Holt asked Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump what they would do specifically to keep Americans safe at home. Clinton’s answer was chilling if you value privacy, care about the Fourth Amendment and oppose unconstitutional surveillance. Because apparently, the NSA and other federal agencies vacuuming up virtually all of our electronic data isn’t enough. Clinton said she would direct an “intelligence surge.”
This wasn’t the first time the Democratic presidential nominee has floated this idea. Last week, The Guardian published an in-depth article outlining Clinton’s plans to beef up the surveillance state. The “surge” concept actually dates back to last year, and was aimed at killing or capturing Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But according to The Guardian, the plan has “evolved from an idea of expanding intelligence assets directed against the Islamic State and its adjuncts to a broader initiative with a significant domestic component, aimed at uncovering and preventing attacks directed or inspired by terrorist groups.”
The domestic component of this so-called “surge” as described by The Guardian raises all kinds of red flags.
Domestically, the “principles” of Clinton’s intelligence surge, according to senior campaign advisers, indicate a preference for targeted spying over bulk data collection, expanding local law enforcement’s access to intelligence and enlisting tech companies to aid in thwarting extremism.
The campaign speaks of “balancing acts” between civil liberties and security, a departure from both liberal and conservative arguments that tend to diminish conflict between the two priorities. Asked to illustrate what Clinton means by “appropriate safeguards” that need to apply to intelligence collection in the US, the campaign holds out a 2015 reform that split the civil liberties community as a model for any new constraints on intelligence authorities.
The USA Freedom Act, a compromise that constrained but did not entirely end bulk phone records collection, “strikes the right balance”, Rosenberger said. “So those kinds of principles and protections offer something of a guideline for where any new proposals she put forth would be likely to fall.”…
Clinton’s campaign is also examining expanding or reforming intelligence so-called fusion centers which gather, share and analyze information between federal, state and local law enforcement, which have been long criticized as both ineffective and dangerous to privacy.
By touting the USA Freedom Act as the type of privacy protections she would adhere to, Clinton has signaled that she will, at best, maintain the status quo – a massive unconstitutional surveillance state. At worst, the term “surge” seems to indicate even more unconstitutional spying on everyday Americans. In fact, while the USA Freedom Act was touted as a “fix” and was sold as a way to limit bulk surveillance, it actually increased the amount of information the NSA and other federal agencies can obtain.
“The overall volume of call detail records subject to query pursuant to court order is greater under USA Freedom Act,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence wrote in a fact sheet on its implementation of the law.
The Atlantic summarized the changes under new federal surveillance law.
Under the old law, the Patriot Act, the NSA claimed it had the right to collect records on every U.S. phone call. But due to technical obstacles, the agency reportedly struggled to integrate cell-phone records into its database. With people increasingly relying on cell phones instead of landlines, the technical problems had caused a major gap in the NSA’s database.
Under the Freedom Act, the NSA was required to give up control of the database. Instead, the phone companies keep the records themselves, and the NSA can get court approval to search for particular records. But critically, the law includes a provision that requires phone companies to provide “technical assistance” to help the NSA access the data in a readable format. That provision ensures the NSA can access millions of cell-phone records that had previously been beyond its reach.
It’s important to note that “court approval” means the secret FISA Courts that operate with little oversight or accountability.
Patrick Eddington of the Cato Institute summed up Clinton’s approach to surveillance perfectly.
“Apparently, Clinton is just fine with that completely ineffective, taxpayer money-wasting, and constitutionally dubious mass surveillance program.”
Not that Donald Trump offers a viable alternative. The Republican nominee has called for surveillance of “certain mosques.”
The bottom line is neither candidate has any intention of rolling back the surveillance state, and will likely expand it.