While anger fills the news and my twitter feed explodes in protest, while millions express fear about policies we don’t even know will be enacted, and while pundits debate who is to blame for Hillary Clinton failing to snatch the presidency, now is the time we need to talk about surveillance.
During the last eight years, the Obama administration failed to live up to its promise reverse the Bush era’s mass surveillance of American citizens. In fact, it was expanded and justified. If you were silent, the sweeping power controlled by the president may not be on your radar for the right reasons. While there is a deep fear resonating, at least half looked the other way when “their guy” held the powers of the presidency.
So let’s put aside the distractions roaring through the media, and let’s walk down memory lane.
The Fourth Amendment was assaulted relentlessly under Bush and it continued through both of Obama’s presidential terms. The hits came from two sides, one by mass surveillance and the other by undermining data security. Now, as my focus may just be on progressives for the moment, the truth remains that neither party, Republican nor Democratic has limited its power, especially in regards to surveillance. Know full well, I have no illusion that Trump will set a new trend of limitations.
Has the federal government moved because of its love of the Constitution, or rule of law? No, but it should at least be motivated to protect the Fourth Amendment because if there is one thing that we have seen in the past few years, it is that DC is not untouchable. Whether that is the silver lining for progressives or disdain for Republicans, we have seen just in the past few years how mass surveillance and the undermining security affects everyone, including the federal government – maybe even your dear leader. While the Fourth Amendment was assaulted relentlessly under Bush and Obama’s presidential, the hope is to end that trend during the Trump years.
Here are some of the highlights (or lowlights) over the last few years.
In 2013, Edward Snowden warned of the powers he had when it came to the surveillance state.
“Now increasingly we see that it’s happening domestically and to do that they, the NSA specifically, targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system and it filters them and it analyses them and it measures them and it stores them for periods of time simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient, and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone they suspect of terrorism, they’re collecting you’re communications to do so.”
Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I sitting at my desk certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a Federal judge to even the President if I had a personal e-mail.”
Selectors,from metadata resulted in possible roving wiretaps. Now, while roving wiretaps were removed with the USA Freedom Act, the metadata collection continues more efficiently and at a fuller scale than under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
CIA Spied on Congress
Senate staffers were spied on by the CIA during an investigation into the torture program. Senator Feinstein, felt the backlash of mass surveillance even though she was an ardent supporter.
“A Democrat from hyper-liberal San Francisco, she has persistently defended government surveillance programs and targeted killings by drones, and she has been one of the C.I.A.’s most faithful supporters. Last year, after President Obama called to move authority for drone strikes from the C.I.A. to the Defense Department, Feinstein placed a classified amendment in a spending bill that helped keep the program where it was.”
She was outraged to see that the tables were indeed turned on her, instead of being sheltered from it. It was not a quick war between her and CIA director John Brennan. It was explosive and full of intimidation by the CIA that resulted in no punishment for the hack.
Hillary Clinton’s Email Server.
OMG! I know, we are back to this. However, this was an illegal act that had incredible consequences. An unsecure server storing classified content had the potential to be accessed by any adversary whether a state or a lone hacker. Peter Van Buren illuminates what this information could mean in the hands of an intel officer.
So let’s think like intelligence officers. How do you get to that kind of stuff?
How the great game of intelligence gathering works is in the end very basic: who has access to the information you want, what are their vulnerabilities, and how do you exploit those vulnerabilities to get to the information. What do they want and how can you give it to them?
Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State had access to extraordinarily sensitive information, both classified and unclassified. Huma Abedin is arguably the most powerful person in Clinton’s circle, and had access to much or all of that pool of information. What Huma knows would be of great interest to Moscow.
How to get the info? Huma’s husband is a publicly outed sexual predator. Everyone in the world knows he sexts, trolls online message boards, and seemingly does little to hide his identity while doing it all. He is a target, the kind of dream package of vulnerabilities an intelligence officer waits a whole career to have fall into their lap.
The federal government isn’t the biggest fan of encryption. The FBI/Apple hearing showed us there are some in the federal government who believe the common folk should be able to encrypt their own devices. At least they are kind of consistent, because meanwhile, the government has a lackadaisical approach to to encrypting sensitive information that it stores. As seen in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Hack.
The U.S. agency burglarized by suspected Chinese hackers has completed its long-awaited damage assessment and more than 22 million people inside and outside government likely had their personal information stolen, officials announced today.
That number is more than five times larger than what the Office of Personnel Management announced a month ago when first acknowledging a major breach had occurred. At the time, OPM only disclosed that the personnel records of 4.2 million current and former federal employees had been compromised.
Trump talks a lot about “Making America Great Again.” But what does that mean? Maybe it’s something we haven’t seen, like a federal government restrained by the Constitution. If Trump really wants a return to greatness, he will roll back the federal surveillance state and reassert the Fourth Amendment.
Will “Make America Great Again” be just another filed away slogan of empty promises like “Hope and Change”? Sadly, if we make the Constitution our standard, that seems likely. Trump gives every indication the surveillance state can expect his continued support.
One thing is for sure; we are here to be a check on the federal government every step. No matter what Trump does, states can and should push back again Big Brother. It’s not parroting a slogan, but living up to its constitutional principles that makes America great!