President Obama Isn't the Man We Voted For On NSA Surveillance


The recent Amash-Conyers amendment to cut funding for NSA surveillance programs surprised a lot of pundits with how close it came to passage.

Of course, the amendment was strongly opposed by the White House. But its goal, to limit NSA surveillance and data collection on U.S. citizens, was one that Obama consistently fought for as a senator.

As president, Obama has reversed his position completely on NSA surveillance. Basically, pretty much every NSA action that we have heard about since Edward Snowden began leaking information about the agency was something Obama once opposed and now defends.

Take the bulk collection of phone records. In 2007, Obama co-sponsored a bill to require that the government provide clear evidence that it intended only to collect information on the "suspected agent of a foreign power" or someone with one degree of separation from such a suspect in order to be able to collect phone records.

Now we know the NSA collects the records for all Verizon Business Network subscribers, and most likely from other services as well. It looks not only at suspected terrorists, but also at people with up to three degrees of separation from a suspect.  

Some of the reversals came before Obama won the presidency. In February of 2008, he co-sponsored a bill to require analysts to separate all incidentally-acquired information about American citizens from the information they got on foreign terror suspects or persons of interest. However, by June of that same year, he had changed course and wound up supporting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendments that authorized the PRISM program and granted immunity to telecom companies that cooperated with the government on surveillance programs.

The list goes on. As senator, and candidate for president, Obama wanted to require that Congress receive reports on how many American communications had been collected by the NSA, to make it harder for the government to prevent companies from disclosing to consumers when they have turned over data to the intelligence community, to openly allow people accused of crimes based on FISA-enabled surveillance to challenge that evidence in court, and to declassify major FISA court opinions.

Apparently, the presidency has completely changed his mind about all of these decisions.

It's not uncommon, or even wrong, for a person to change their mind about previously held beliefs. People rethink ideas and learn new ones. But such complete policy reversals from when someone is running for office and when they actually hold office matter. Obama was elected promising the most transparent government in the history of the country, with greater respect for civil liberties.

Instead, more Freedom of Information Act requests than at any point since Obama took office are being refused, for national security reasons. The national director of intelligence is lying under oath to Congress without consequence. And Obama has reversed again: after promising to have an independent review by outside experts look at NSA surveillance, he has appointed that same lying director of intelligence, James Clapper, to head up the review.

The Obama currently in office is not the one most of his supporters voted for.