In his much-heralded speech on the reforms he proposes for the National Security Agency's metadata collection of billions of phone call records and electronic message transmissions every day, the president attempted to put a friendly, neighborly face on the agency’s domestic spying program.
"After all," Obama explained, "the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors. They're our friends and family." And NSA Director General James Clapper is sort of a national Andy of Mayberry, just trying to keep the village safe for little Opie and all the rest of us. Knowing that the eyes of a government agency can survey our medical records, our bank accounts, and the records of our communications with one another, all without reason for suspicion, probable cause, or a particularized warrant, should give us a warm, friendly feeling of security. In America in 2014, we are being asked to consider "Big Brother is watching” as less a warning than a word of comfort and assurance.
Yes, those nice, patriotic "folks" at the NSA have family and friends. Many no doubt have children they tuck into bed at night. They are probably kind to animals and good stewards of the environment. Some may have spouses who serve on the PTA or local school boards and lead community fundraising drives. All that is wonderful, but irrelevant to the topic at hand.
"Well that was true in East Germany under the Stasi as well," wrote Daniel McAdams at LewRockwell.com. "Is that supposed to reassure us? Are we supposed to feel better that our neighbors, friends and family are part of an enormous domestic spying network looking into the lives of others?"
The president’s speech at the Justice Department came just days after news reports of the NSA’s gathering of 200 million text messages a day from around the world and its planting of software in nearly 100,000 computers that allows officials to spy through those devices. But perhaps the reference to the Stasi is an unfair comparison to our good friends and neighbors at the NSA. From the very outset of his January 17 speech, the president drew a direct line of descent from Paul Revere to James Clapper.
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