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Government spying on Americans increased under Obama’s watch

By DOUG THOMPSON
May 11, 2012

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.

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19 Responses to Government spying on Americans increased under Obama’s watch

  1. Joe Keegan

    May 11, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Obama is “out-Bushing” Bush. The Patriot Act just “legalized” what they’ve been doing for some time. The NDAA put teeth into it. I feel that the ultimate goal is one master database containing all information of every American accessible by the government agent and cop in his squad car. An ant in a glass ant house will have more privacy, but then again they don’t number the ants.

  2. griff

    May 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Duh?

    Maybe because the machinery of this government runs 24/7/365 these days without much input – or interference – from the president.

    Kinda makes you wonder who is really running the asylum?

    • Joe Keegan

      May 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Duh? What are you saying? Be brave, “griff.” Courage.

      • griff

        May 11, 2012 at 7:57 pm

        Duh?! What am I saying?

        Government = Control.

        What am I saying?

        Plug in who or what you want as president or senator, but the machinery ambles forward.

        Courage? Does voting the party line constitute courage?

        Does obedience constitute courage?

        Does allowing television constitute courage?

        If so, call me a coward.

        • Joe Keegan

          May 12, 2012 at 7:01 am

          Is griff your screen name or real name?

          • Almandine

            May 12, 2012 at 6:02 pm

            What difference does it make? Is Joe Keegan your real name? Yeah? So what?

            • Joe Keegan

              May 12, 2012 at 8:42 pm

              You answered your own question.

              • Almandine

                May 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm

                19 Joe Keegans in Florida… burp.

          • griff

            May 14, 2012 at 12:03 am

            I find it rather amusing that so many people here focus on which screen name some one posts under, as if I couldn’t use a fake real-sounding name.

            Besides, those that do the surveillance don’t much care what name I use. They know more about me than I do.

            But to answer your question, my screen name is part of my last name and happens to be the nickname that every one knows me by, both on the internet and in “real” life.

            I’ve posted my “real” name here in the past. I’m sorry you missed it.

  3. larry

    May 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    When I read articles like this I have to pause, since it’s the nature of the internet & other technologies that allows greater surveillance. And it goes both ways’ in terms of transparency, it’s harder and harder for the government and other to hide information. I.E. the emerging groups such as Anon.

    And it’s going to keep increasing far faster then the congress and public understand. You aren’t just going to turn it off.

    I don’t think anyone has a good way to insure away to deal with the privacy issue.

    My daughter studies’ cybernetic anthropology, and how the emerging communication networks are changing society more then anytime in history.

    One up coming item that will have a big change is the velocity of doing DNA identification. Once several million dollars, now thousands of dollars and by the end of this decade. Your smart device will be able to do DNA identification. When you get pulled over the police will scan your DNA. I know people freak out about this, but it’s going to happen.

  4. Jim B.

    May 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Well, this is an upsetting and disheartening article!

    I wonder what happened to Obama when he campaigned on putting “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.” …. and then….once he gets into office he gets his first security briefing…and….his hair goes white, he grasps his chest, takes a deep breath, and decides to up the spying ante, because the threats are so compelling and nightmarish…..That’s one possible explanation for this behavior.

    Yet, it’s disappointing — this increased warrantless spying and what appears to be fishing expeditions for possible terrorist activity.

    On top of this….many people willingly give up their privacy by telling the world more than some of us would like to know on various social network sites…..and…..Google saves everyone’s searches…Google doesn’t say what they use the information for, but they store it, and keep on storing it.

    I hope it never gets to the point where we all have our own TV shows….reminiscent of the movie, The Truman Show. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120382/

    Yet, a benefit of my Truman Show — it would cure insomnia.

    • griff

      May 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm

      What happened?

      Reality happened.

      But you know what? We’re gonna do it again. Because that’s what we do.

    • Almandine

      May 12, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      Promise yourself to conduct 100 random, useless google searches every day. More if you can.

      Anybody out there got a search program that will run continuously in the background?

      • Jon

        May 17, 2012 at 9:18 pm

        This is a complete aside, and probably a bit late, but I always wanted to set up the ‘Random Data Email Exchange’.

        The idea is that, once or twice a day, everyone who signed up gets about 30-40kb of totally random data emailed to them, from a randomly selected other member, under the subject line of ‘Random Data Email Exchange [some unrelated random number]‘.

        As well-encrypted data is indistinguishable, statistically, from random, it should give the decoders a field day.

        (It is worth noting that, when XORed, any random data can be made to say anything, given a suitably constructed key.)

        There are other problems, not the least being centralization (who keeps the list of who has signed up?) spamming (what if someone who gets the list sends everyone Viagra email? Or marks everyone on the list as a suspect and puts them on the no-fly list) infiltration (what if the random numbers aren’t actually random) and finally…

        In some jurisdictions it is unlawful to claim that you do not have the decryption key to encrypted data. You can be (and some have been) imprisoned until you fess up the key.

        But totally random data (that the government thinks is encrypted data) *has* no key (that you know of). So there’s nothing you can tell them (that they’ll believe) and you stay in jail roughly forever.

        Even torture isn’t going to help, as you try to tell them key after key and none of them work.

        Ah well. Nobody said civil disobedience was fun.

        Jon

  5. Joe Keegan

    May 12, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    The danger to American freedoms is who the government surveils. Remember former Gov. Elliot Spitzer? The Government/Wall Street “investigated” him under the Patriot Act and conveniently leaked the story to the press in order to take him out. Does any rational person believe that this will not have a chilling effect on our other public officials?

    When the government is “legally” able investigate opposition to their policies/dissidents or anyone else deemed a “terrorist,” the First Amendment is nullified.

  6. Rick

    May 12, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Looks like Goebbels has left the Bush WH and resurfaced in the Obama one.

  7. Issodhos

    May 13, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    “I wonder what happened to Obama when he campaigned on putting “an end to government spying on Americans and other abuses of freedom that grew into a national epidemic after the terrorist attacks on September …”

    His base fell for it and he got elected. Watch what they fall for this go-round. :-)
    Yours,
    Issodhos

  8. woody188

    May 14, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Not long now until the unmanned drones take flight around the USA.

  9. Doc_Holiday

    May 15, 2012 at 9:17 am

    They already have Woody.