During his campaign for President in 2008, President Barack Obama promised to put an end to government spying on Americans and other abuses of freedom that grew into a national epidemic after the terrorist attacks on September 2011.
Instead, government surveillance of Americans has increased dramatically under Obama’s watch while freedom and individual rights have been stripped away under a barrage of increased scrutiny.
An investigation by Capitol Hill Blue into erosion of freedom and individual rights in America has found:
–The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s use of “National Security Letters” to peek into the private lives of Americans has increased dramatically since Obama became President. In his first two years in office, the number of letters issued doubled;
–Warrantless wiretaps have quadrupled during Obama’s presidency;
–Although he campaigned to put an end to abuses from the rights-robbing USA Patriot Act, Obama, after becoming President, supported boosting the act’s already-broad powers.
In January 2010, a report by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found a “systemic, widespread abuse of power” in the use of National Security Letters and urged greater Congressional oversight and new guidelines to limit use of the letters which require banks, employers and other institutions to turn over private data on Americans without court approval or notification of the citizen under investigation.
“Given this report, there is absolutely no excuse for Congress not to reform the NSL authority during the current Patriot Act debate,” Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Washington Legislative office, said in 2010.
But instead of curbing the abuses, Congress — with support from the White House — gave the FBI and other government agencies more power to invade the privacy of Americans.
In 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency, the FBI issued 14,788 NSLs demanding information on 6,114 Americans. In 2010, the letters increased to 24,287 for information on 14,212 citizens.
Although “official” figures for 2011 have not yet been released, sources within the Justice Department tell Capitol Hill Blue that the requests and number of Americans under investigation will probably double once again — a quadruple increase in the first three years of Obama’s presidency.
“Of all the dangerous government surveillance powers that were expanded by the USA Patriot Act the National Security Letter power is one of the most frightening and invasive,” says the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in Washington, DC.
EFF has filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information on abuse under the letters but the Justice Department has fought such release and provides information only when ordered by the courts.
Sources tell Capitol Hill Blue that more than 300,000 NSLs have been issued over the last decade, targeting more than 200,000 Americans. In 2012, a technology company took the Justice Department to court over the law’s requirement that those targeted in the NSLs be kept in the dark.
Details of the legal challenge, filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, have been sealed. The identity of the company and the individuals involved have not been disclosed.
In 2008, Obama promised to put an end to warrantless wiretapping. Since becoming President, he has not only allowed the practice to continue but has authorized expansion of the program that allows federal agencies to wiretap American citizens without warrants and signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act this year that expanded the program.
Obama also instructed Attorney General Eric Holder to “vigorously oppose” an ACLU lawsuit challenging the legality of the act.
In 2011, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) amended its original lawsuit against former President George W. Bush to include Obama.
“The Obama administration has fought to keep this case out of court,” says CCR senior attorney Shayana Kadidal. “It is astonishing that President Obama’s administration continues to fight to hold on to the fruits of a patently illegal surveillance program.”
The White House did not respond to a request for a response to the issues raised in this article.