President Obama’s Friday effort to placate the rising opposition to NSA surveillance was clearly style over substance, but beyond the predictable panning of critics of the surveillance state, the speech is also attracting growing criticism from the surveillance state’s proponents.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R – TX) rejected the comments as “window dressing,” and faulted the president for failing to “explain these programs” to the American public, which in poll after poll is shown opposed to them. He went on to lament that young Americans “don’t trust the government” and that this is getting in the way of a lot of the government’s plans.
Rep. Peter King (R – NY), another outspoken supporter of surveillance, lashed Obama for allowing Snowden’s leaks to “dominate the media,” lamenting that people “actually think the NSA is spying on people,” which of course they are.
President Obama’s speech promised some nominal additional transparency, but centered on the idea that the American public needed to be convinced to be “comfortable” with the program. They clearly are not, and a few hastily prepared whitepapers insisting the program is legal is simply bad strategy.
Indeed, between secret laws, secret memos and secret courts there was little reason to doubt that the surveillance schemes are nominally “legal.” It’s the abuse of the American public’s privacy that is the issue, not whether some judge in a hermetically sealed room will sign off on it.
And indeed, President Obama’s whitepapers are only underscoring that point, with both the NSA and Justice Department papers reiterating legality, but claiming ridiculously broad amounts of authority to surveil anything and everything they see fit.
The papers reflect an administration which simply doesn’t understand why the American people are outraged by its unchecked power, and hasn’t a clue how to sell them on the idea of living in an Orwellian nightmare. It’s clear why even the proponents are mad, because they’re losing this argument, and badly.