President Obama delivered a wordy and categorical defense of NSA warrantless snooping on Americans' data privacy January 17 in a speech at the Justice Department, reiterating the longtime executive branch view that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy in any electronic transaction.
Though the NSA (and DEA) vacuums up every piece of Americans' data — telephone records, Internet traffic, GPS locating points, and other data — without a warrant as required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Obama claimed that “the men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people.”
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bans government searches without both a warrant from a judge and “probable cause” evidence. Warrants must also describe specifically what will be found in the search and where it will be found. The NSA searches satisfy none of these requirements. Obama managed to say some 5,488 words in the speech — which allegedly addressed privacy concerns — without even once mentioning the Fourth Amendment or “probable cause.” His speech twice mentioned warrants, but neither comment dealt with the current controversy over data vacuuming.
The president's speech confirmed an August 9, 2013 “White Paper” on NSA surveillance, which stated that “participants in telephone calls lack a reasonable expectation of privacy for purposes of the Fourth Amendment in the telephone numbers used to make and receive their calls.”
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a persistent critic of warrantless wiretapping, tweeted that Obama's promises of privacy without substance sounded a lot like the president's promises with regard to ObamaCare. The Tea Party senator sarcastically added: "If you like your privacy, you can keep it."
Obama's speech was basically about damage control: What part of the NSA program will they be able to salvage from the inevitable congressional backlash in the wake of revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden? Obama had a few words to say about Snowden, and in doing so reiterated the fundamental contradictory position of the executive branch with regard to Americans' electronic data privacy:
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Photo of President Obama speaking about the NSA at the Department of Justice, Jan. 17, 2014: AP Images