In the face of ongoing criticism of the NSA spy program, President Barack Obama delivered a long-awaited speech (read the full text here) addressing reforms to the NSA. If the speech was designed to quell fears, it hasn’t entirely worked, with pundits to both the left and the right complaining about the content of Obama’s speech. Here are some of their concerns:
1. A Call to Placate, Not Fix
Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian’s reporter who has pivotal in releasing the Edward Snowden leaks, sees Obama’s speech as an attempt to pacify the U.S. public without changing much of anything. In an op-ed, he writes:
The crux of this tactic is that US political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are ‘serious questions that have been raised.’ They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite; to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic ‘reforms’ so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge.
2. No Actual Reform
Say what you will about Senator Rand Paul’s other politics, but he’s usually on point when it comes to defending the Fourth Amendment. After listening to Obama’s speech, Sen. Paul said, “I didn’t hear any lessening of the spying on Americans or collecting records of Americans. I heard that trust me, I’m going to put some more safeguards in place, but I’m going to keep right on collecting every American’s records.”
Paul is not alone in this perspective. Though Obama called for minor reforms, none of them would undermine the major objection the NSA program in the first place: the massive collection of private information of innocent American citizens.
3. Obama Wants to Hand Over the Data to Someone Else… To Be Determined
As Mark Murray, Senior Political Editor at NBC News, points out, Obama’s plan is to take the mass collection of data out of the hands of the government and give it to… well, someone else.
This move just leads to more questions. Why would a third party that has access to all of our data be any less invasive and offensive? And who is this group that will hold the calls, texts, and emails instead?
For the latter question, Obama admits he hasn’t figured that out yet. Instead, the President wants more “time” to figure out the answer to this question. Or, he may just be asking for extra time in the hopes that the American public will forget about it.
4. Typical Fear-Mongering
CNN’s Carl Lavin counted nine references to September 11th in Obama’s speech. The underlying message was clear – Obama is continuing to push for the NSA as an important tool for counterterrorism, despite the fact that most of the criticisms of the program are about the far-reaching, unconstitutional privileges the NSA has granted itself that have nothing to do with terrorism.
5. No Reason to Trust
Of course, the biggest criticism might come from Joe Biden himself. He said, “The real question here is: what do they do with this information that they collect that does not have anything to do with Al-Qaeda? And we’ve got to trust the President and the Vice President of the United States that they’re doing the right thing? Don’t count me in on that.”
Okay, admittedly, that segment is from 2006, a couple of years before Biden became he was a candidate for Vice President. Nonetheless, if Biden has any integrity, he’ll start speaking out more harshly about this program with which he’s now complicit. In his speech, Obama asked for the people to regain trust in the government, yet after a breach like the one we’ve discovered — like Biden said — why should we?