What are the bounds of the spying?

Published 11:00 pm Friday, July 5, 2013

No citizen is immune to the ceaseless dragnet surveillance by Barack Obama’s administration.

Among the revelations of the president’s boundless surveillance, which also includes reporters’ phone records, is this report on how We The People thereby lose access to breaking news affecting our lives:

“Associated Press president Gary Pruitt … slammed the Department of Justice for acting as ‘judge, jury and executioner’ in the seizure of the news organization’s phone records and he said some of the wire service’s longtime sources have clammed up in fear” (“AP boss: Sources won’t talk anymore,” Mackenzie Weinger, politico.com, June 19).

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Pruitt, whose speech at the National Press Club was covered by Politico’s Weinger, said “the chilling effect is not just at AP, it’s happening at other news organizations as well. Journalists from other news organizations have personally told me it has intimidated sources from speaking to them.

“Now, the government may love this. I suspect they do. But beware the government that loves secrecy too much.”

Meanwhile, more attention is being paid here to increasing anger among our European allies to the scope and depth of Obama’s spying as revealed by Edward Snowden to Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian.

For example, Agence France-Presse recently reported: “The EU has warned President Barack Obama’s administration of ‘grave adverse consequences’ to the rights of European citizens from a huge U.S. Internet surveillance programme, officials said” (“EU warns U.S. of ‘grave consequences’ from intel scandal,” June 12). The EU’s justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, had written to Attorney General Eric Holder, AFP reported, requesting “’swift and concrete’ answers about the spy scheme.”

Basing her concerns on Snowden’s exposures in The Guardian, she sharply challenged Holder (almost certainly to no avail), writing:

“Programmes such as PRISM and the laws on the basis of which such programmes are authorised could have grave adverse consequences for the fundamental rights of EU citizens.”

Furthermore, AFP reported, Reding asked Holder “whether EU citizens … targeted by the U.S. programmes … would be able to find out whether their data has been accessed, and whether they would be treated similarly to U.S. nationals in such cases.”

And dig this: In view of Holder’s chronic non-transparency to such questions, AFP reported that “the EU official also warned that the European Parliament ‘is likely to assess the overall transatlantic relationship also in the light of your responses.’”

But Obama characterizes these incidents of spying as just “modest encroachments on privacy.”

We Americans know how scarily “modest” they are.

Our next president of whatever party is going to have a lot of explaining to do when dealing with European citizens’ abhorrence of being secretly classified in such American databases as those of the National Security Agency and the FBI.

As for members of the media and advocates of civil liberties, more of them are trying to pierce Obama and Holder’s spy operations by engaging in powerfully detailed lawsuits over constitutional abuses by the administration, as I’ll detail next week.

On June 10, the Obama administration was targeted full-scale, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “A bipartisan coalition of 86 civil liberties organizations and Internet companies — including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, reddit, Mozilla, FreedomWorks and the American Civil Liberties Union — are demanding swift action from Congress in light of the recent revelations about unchecked domestic surveillance” (“86 Civil Liberties Groups and Internet Companies Demand an End to NSA Spying,” Rainey Reitman, eff.org).

In their open letter to all members of Congress, these 86 angry patriotic organizations resounded: “This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously and guard against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The cost of another president leading us as a nation under ever more surveillance will be a future 9/11 in which the terrorists will have won — even before all the corpses they amass are counted.

Bear in mind that a majority of us re-elected Obama, our lead betrayer. Shall we continue betraying ourselves?

As for Edward Snowden, the man who helped cause this large-scale awakening of the media, he is afraid. Not of his fate, but that authorities “will come after my family, my friends, my partner,” he said. “Anyone I have a relationship with … I have to live with that for the rest of my life” (“Edward Snowden, NSA files source: ‘If they want to get you, in time they will,’” Ewen MacAskill, guardian.co.uk, June 9).

Do you agree that this should be his reward for telling the truth?

(Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.)